Gaza Border Deal in Days: Hamas

The Palestinian resistance group Hamas expected Saturday, February 7, to reach a deal with Israel on a long-term truce and opening Gaza crossings in a ‘few days’.

"If the Egyptian efforts are successful at this time, we expect to reach an agreement within the next few days," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Barhum said the talks were over on an agreement to "end the siege, stop the aggression and reopen the crossings."

"If we receive convincing answers from Israel, through Egypt, we expect to reach an agreement in the next days."

Egypt has been acting as a mediator between Hamas and Israel to broker a ceasefire deal and reopen Gaza crossings.

Israeli daily Haaretz said that a draft deal has been reached on a renewable 18-month truce and full opening of Gaza crossings.

Israel has kept the densely-populated strip closed to all but essential supplies since June 2007 when Hamas seized power.

The news comes as senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar left Gaza for Egypt on Saturday for talks on the Gaza deal.

"We’ve agreed to a unified position, and we’ll relay it to the Egyptian authorities and then we’ll take their response to the leadership in Damascus and then return to Cairo again," Zahar told Reuters soon after crossing the border into Egypt.

It was the first time Zahar had been seen in public since Israel’s deadly 22-day war on Gaza which killed more than 1,400 Palestinians and wounded 5,450.

Prisoner Swap

The development comes as reports said a Hamas-Israel prisoner swap deal is expected to be reached by Tuesday, February 10.

"Supreme efforts are being made in order to hurry the moment when Gilad Shalit will come home," Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Channel 1.

Israeli soldier Shalit was captured by Palestinian resistance groups in a cross-border attack in June 2006 to swap for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons.

"We know that he is well, alive, breathing and okay, but we need to bring him here from there," Barak said.

A Turkish delegation arrived in Syria Friday for talks with Hamas leaders on a prisoner swap deal with Israel.

Turkish news channel CNN Turk reported the deal may be reached by Tuesday, the day when Israeli voters go to polling stations in the country’s general elections.

Palestinian officials told Reuters on Friday that Turkey and Qatar have taken a lead role in the prisoner swap negotiations in recent months.

Egypt-brokered prisoner swap talks between Israel and Hamas have been deadlocked over Israel’s refusal to release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit.

But this time Barak, who is Labor’s prime ministerial candidate in the February 10 elections, admitted that freeing Shalit would require a high price.

"You know that I am a fierce critic of the prime minister (Ehud Olmert)," he said.

"But in these matters, in these days, he is making a great effort, as am I, as is the IDF (army) Chief of Staff, and the head of the Shin Bet in order to expedite the process."

(IslamOnline.net and Agencies)

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