BY ROEE NAHMIAS
Filistin al-Youm, a Palestinian website affiliated with the Islamic Jihad, revealed on Wednesday that German intelligence chief Ernest Uhrlau was the one spearheading mediation efforts between Israel and Hamas ahead of a prisoner exchange deal to bring about the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit.
According to another report, the deal was actually already closed after countries willing to take in freed Hamas prisoners Israel demands be deported were found.
Independent east Jerusalem newspaper al-Manar reported that according to European sources, the end of talks, and the execution of the prisoner exchange deal will be declared ahead of the High Holy Days next month.
This after the Germans got Syria, Sudan and a number of European countries to agree to take in Hamas exiles, under the condition that they return to their original place of residence after a year.
According to Filistin al-Youm’s commentator on Israeli affairs, Uhrlau met with Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s special envoy on Shalit negotiations, Hagai Hadas, National Security Advisor Uzi Arad, and Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin.
Uhrlau also reportedly met with intelligence chief Omar Suleiman and his team in Egypt, and with Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal, Hamas official Izzat al-Rishk, and possibly with Mahmoud al-Zahar during his last visit to Damascus.
Once Germany got involved in the mediation efforts, the report said, Hamas and Hezbollah heads met in Damascus to learn from the Lebanese organization’s past experience with German mediation between it and Israel.
‘Netanyahu supports Barghouti’s release’
The website reported that the only remaining hurdle standing in the way of the execution of a prisoner exchange deal is the release of former Fatah Secretary-General Marwan Barghouti.
The Netanyahu government has reportedly already agreed on almost all the names of Palestinian prisoners on Hamas’ list that the previous government refused to have released, except for Barghouti’s.
According to the report, most of the Israeli Labor ministers are in favor of his release, but the majority of Likud ministers oppose. Netanyahu however, “seems to have had a change of heart and now supports Barghouti’s release,” the website said.
The website added that the issue surfaced in a meeting between Israeli officials including heads of the Mossad and Shin Bet, and the IDF chief of staff last week.
The discussion revolved around the question of who had the most to gain from Barghouti’s release – whether it would be registered as a victory for Hamas, gaining the organization popularity on the Palestinian street, or whether it would be construed as a good will gesture in favor of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
On Thursday, Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and according to the report, a large portion of the meeting will be dedicated to the Shalit issue.
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