Rally  for Shalit at Gaza crossing on Tuesday
Rally for Shalit at Gaza crossing on Tuesday Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Bethlehem-based Maan news agency reported Tuesday evening that Hamas will transfer kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit to Egypt during the night as the first step towards his safe return to his family in Israel. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he has no knowledge of the reported arrangement. Hamas also denied the report.

The family of the soldier also said it has no knowledge that their son is to be freed soon. Shortly after Maan claimed the release is near, it deleted the claim that Shalit would be freed within "hours."

Previous reports since Shalit was kidnapped three years ago this Thursday have proven to be false, and Arab news agencies frequently have exploited the plight of the soldier as a way to try to force Hamas or Israel to make concessions to each other and as a psychological weapon against Israel.

One Palestinian Authority official said that there has been advancement in talks on freeing Shalit, who was abducted three years ago this Thursday, but he added that no dates have been set.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been unusually silent on the issue since his return from Egypt earlier this week. There also have been sudden visits by Egyptian officials to Israel.

Maan said that its information was based on statements by an Egyptian general and added that a number of journalists have hastily left Cairo and are headed to Rafiah, the city that straddles the Egyptian-Israeli border, where terrroists may be holding Shalit. His conditon is not known, and Hamas has offered no signs of life although he is believed to be alive.

The news agency, which is considered to be close to the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, reported that Israel will release a large number of terrorists, including 50 who are serving life sentences in jail for killing or arranging the murder of Israelis.

The next step in the reported release is Shalit’s leaving Egypt for Israel, which at the same time is to free another 450 terrorists. An additional 500 terrorists would be released upon Shalit’s arrival in Israel.

The Israeli Security Cabinet turned down a similar arrangement shortly before former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert left office after intelligence and defense officials warned that the release of the terrorists to homes in Judea, Samaria and Gaza would endanger Israeli security.

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