JERUSALEM – Israel is making progress in its efforts to secure the release of a soldier captured by Palestinian militants last June, diplomatic and security officials said Sunday, in the first sign from Israel that a deal could be worked out with the serviceman's captors.
As part of the contacts, which are overseen by Egyptian mediators, the soldier's father received a letter from his son as a sign that he is alive, the security officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press about such sensitive matters.
The officials cautioned that the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit could still take days, or weeks, and Shalit's father, Noam, played down speculation that a deal was close.
"Unfortunately I have no indication that my son is alive," Shalit told Army Radio on Sunday. However, he declined to discuss reports that he had received a letter and said negotiators have given him little information about the status of the talks.
Despite Shalit's caution, the Israeli officials were the first to confirm Palestinian reports of progress toward a deal in which the soldier would be freed in return for the release of hundreds of Arab prisoners held by Israel.
In the initial days after the kidnapping, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ruled out negotiations and launched a broad military offensive into Gaza. But the offensive, which is continuing, has failed to win Shalit's freedom.
Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the outgoing Hamas-led Palestinian government, told Army Radio that he had heard from "many sources" that a letter from the soldier had been delivered. "I think they have received a sign that he is alive and that he is good and that he is in a good condition," Hamad said.
"I know that there is progress but I don't know at what phase they are at. I don't know if it will be after a week, two weeks or three weeks," he said. "This depends on the Israeli answers to the demands on the Palestinian side."
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said Saturday there is "a lot of movement" in negotiations for Shalit's release. Haniyeh spoke before a meeting with Egyptian intelligence officials involved in the talks.