JERUSALEM – Israel has relayed its response to a proposed prisoner swap with Hamas militants, including a list of Palestinian prisoners it wants deported if the deal to trade hundreds of them for a single captive Israeli soldier goes through, Israel Radio reported Tuesday.
A whirlwind of activity at the highest levels of the Israeli government in recent days had suggested a deal to swap 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails for 23-year-old Sgt. Gilad Schalit, held by the militants for 3 1/2 years, could be close.
Israeli officials wrapped up marathon top-level debates on the Hamas offer early Tuesday without announcing a decision. But the fact that no more meetings were scheduled indicated that an answer might have been agreed on.
Israel Radio did not give further details on Israel's response.
An Israeli government official would not confirm the radio report but he said the question of whether certain prisoners would return to the West Bank or be deported was "clearly" an issue in the discussions. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the details of the talks.
Hamas had no comment, and it wasn't clear whether it had yet received Israel's answer from a German official mediating the negotiations.
A Palestinian close to the negotiations had said the German mediator carrying Hamas' proposal had given Israel until Wednesday to take respond. The Palestinian, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secret nature of the talks, said there would be no further negotiations.
Prisoner swaps are controversial in Israel because of their potential to encourage militants to take more hostages. But the drawn-out plight of Schalit and his family has touched many hearts in Israel, where military service is compulsory and families expect the army to do all it can to protect their children.
Bringing Schalit home could boost Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu domestically, given the Israeli public's deep concern for the young soldier's fate. But it could also hurt the prime minister's standing among Israelis who feel releasing prisoners convicted of violence would only invite more bloodshed.
Israel has balked at meeting the Hamas demand to release Palestinians convicted of particularly shocking violence, such as the bombing of a Passover celebration that killed 30 people in 2002.
It also wants some prisoners deported to Gaza or overseas, rather than to their West Bank homes, on the assumption they would be less able to harm Israel from the isolated coastal strip along the Mediterranean.
Since Gaza's bloody takeover by militants in 2007, Palestinian territories have been split between the West Bank, controlled by Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement, and the Gaza Strip, run by militant Hamas.