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Abbas Says Negotiations Ongoing for Captive Israeli Soldier's Release

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Thursday that intense negotiations were under way to free an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas-linked militants.

However, a Palestinian lawmaker and a spokesman for the Hamas military denied that the soldier's release could be imminent.

Abbas, who spoke in Rome after meeting with Italian Premier Romano Prodi, initially was quoted by an official Arabic-to-Italian translator as saying there could be an "imminent solution" for the soldier's release.

An Associated Press translation found that quote was not correct.

"I have told the prime minister regarding the issue of the captured soldier that we are undertaking intensive efforts to end this as soon as possible," he said in Arabic, according to AP.

Abbas was referring to Prodi, who stood beside him at the news conference.

In response to the initial translation, Hamas spokesman Abu Obeida said "from our side there is nothing new." Palestinian lawmaker Saeb Erekat said it was "premature" to say the soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, is about to be released.

Israel launched attacks in Gaza after Palestinian Hamas-linked militants crossed from Gaza into Israel on June 25 and captured Shalit. As that conflict raged, Hezbollah grabbed two soldiers in a July 12 cross-border raid, sparking Israel's massive assault on Lebanon.

Egypt's powerful chief of intelligence Omar Suleiman, who has broad contacts among the Palestinians and carries enormous influence among officials in Gaza, has been deeply involved in negotiations seeking the Shalit's release.

Egyptian security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said Thursday there was considerable progress in the negotiations to free the soldier but no breakthrough.

Saudi diplomatic officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information, said Abbas would be in Jiddah on Saturday for talks with King Abdullah on developments surrounding the soldier and escalation of violence. They also suggested the release was not imminent.