Last updated: 2 June, 2011

Israel denies breakthrough on Shalit release

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Thursday denied reports of a breakthrough in negotiations to free Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by militants in Gaza in 2006.

Netanyahu’s office issued the statement after Egyptian newspaper El-Mesryoon reported that a deal to free Shalit in exchange for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners would be completed within hours.

The report cited Egypt’s former ambassador to Tel Aviv, Mohammed Bassiouny, but was immediately denied by both Egyptian and Hamas officials, as well as by Netanyahu’s office.

“Following the report in Egypt concerning Gilad Shalit, the prime minister’s office said that contacts over Gilad Shalit are ongoing in a continuous and intensive manner, but there is no breakthrough on the subject,” the statement from Netanyahu’s office said.

Palestinian officials in Ramallah told AFP that envoys from Germany, Turkey and Qatar, as well as Hamas officials, were in Cairo for talks on Shalit.

Israeli media also reported that senior Defence Ministry official Amos Gilad was in Cairo on Wednesday for a brief visit to discuss the issue.

Shalit, now 24, was seized in a 2006 dawn cross-border raid by militants from three Palestinian groups including Gaza rulers Hamas.

The group, which took control of Gaza a year after Shalit’s capture, has demanded hundreds of prisoners in exchange for his release, including scores of militants responsible for deadly attacks.

But talks have stalled, with Netanyahu warning that militants released in previous prisoner exchanges have gone on to launch deadly attacks on Israel.

Netanyahu has come under increasing criticism for his government’s failure to secure Shalit’s release in talks, which have been mediated by Germany.

The last sign of life received from Shalit’s captors was in October 2009 when a video recording showed him looking gaunt, but apparently in good health.