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Hamas Seeks to Swap Israeli Prisoner Gilad Shalit for Prominent Palestinian, Others

The militant Hamas group has added the most prominent Palestinian prisoner held by Israel to a list of people it wants released in exchange for a captured Israeli soldier, a senior Hamas official said Tuesday.

Mohammed Nazzal, a member of Hamas' political bureau, said Marwan Barghouti is one of a number of prisoners the group wants Israel to free in exchange for Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Hamas-linked militants in June 2006.

"Barghouti's name was on Hamas' list of prisoners it demanded be released in exchange for Shalit," Nazzal told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. Nazzal did not indicate whether the list had been sent to the Israelis.

A senior Israeli government official told the AP in Jerusalem on Tuesday that Barghouti's release was not on the table at the current time. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.

On Saturday, Israel's Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai became the latest high-ranking official to publicly support Barghouti's release, despite the government's declared policy of not freeing prisoners involved in attacks on Israelis.

Israeli National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a former defense minister, and Environment Minister Gideon Ezra, a former deputy chief of Israel's internal security service, have also endorsed freeing Barghouti.

Israel is holding some 9,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Barghouti, viewed as a potential successor to moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, is serving five consecutive life terms in an Israeli prison for masterminding the killing of four Israelis and a Greek monk in West Bank attacks.

Nazzal said exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal hopes to lead a delegation to Egypt to negotiate the prisoner exchange. Egypt has been negotiating between Hamas and Israel for the release of the soldier.

"There is no definite schedule for a visit, but there is a plan for a visit," said Nazzal. "We hope it will take place soon, but until now no date has been set."

Speaking in Damascus Friday, Mashaal said that Shalit would not be released until Palestinians held in Israeli jails were freed. He did not give further details.