CAIRO, June 22 (RIA Novosti) - Israel is close to a deal that will free a soldier held by Gaza militants in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners, an Egyptian paper said on Monday, citing "informed sources."
The deal is thought to have been finalized during a meeting between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Cairo on Sunday, the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper said.
Gilad Shalit, a 22-year-old Israeli conscript seized by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid in June 2006, could be handed over to Egypt in the near future. An Egyptian special services delegation has already been sent to Gaza, where the soldier is thought to be held.
Under the terms of the deal, Israel will release 150 Palestinian prisoners as soon as Shalit is handed over to Egyptian mediators. As soon as the soldier arrives to Israel, 450 more prisoners will be released. At the final stage of the deal, more prisoners will be released, bringing the total number to more than 1,000.
Until recently, Egyptian efforts to mediate the release of the Israeli soldier have been stalled as Israel and Hamas had failed to agree on the number and identities of Palestinian prisoners to be freed.
Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip enclave since the summer of 2007.