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Israeli-Palestinian Talks on Prisoners Swap Mires
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A Palestinian senior official revealed on Tuesday that talks to swap an Israeli soldier for Palestinian prisoners have stuck in mire over the category of prisoners to be involved in the swap deal.

Palestinian Minister of Prisoners' Affairs Wasfi Kabha told reporters that the Palestinians have been demanding the release of 367 prisoners who spend more than 16 years in prison and everyone sentenced to life, in addition to women, youngsters and patients.

However, "the Israeli side is inflexible in defining who the prisoners of long sentences were," Kabha said.

On June 25, military wings affiliated with Palestinian ruling Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, drastically escalating the long-lasting Israel-Palestine conflict.

The captors demand to exchange Shalit for a number of Palestinian prisoners.

On Nov. 26, a vulnerable truce between Israel and the Palestinian side took effect, ending a five-month Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip and paving the way for a swap.

Kabha said Egyptian mediators "have signaled positive signs to the Palestinians that Israel agreed to release prisoners in phases and in coincidence with the release of Shalit."

According to the signals, Israel has accepted to free 400 Palestinian prisoners, including a big number of women, some youngsters and patients when Shalit is handed over to the Egyptian mediators as the first phase.

Then, Israel pledges to release another groups of prisoners when Shalit meets his family in Egypt. This group includes jailed leaders of political factions.

In the third phase, Israel releases prisoners of long sentences according to criteria set by Palestinians.

Meanwhile, the ceasefire reached between the Palestinians and Israel was still valid despite Israel's rejection to expansion of the truce to the West Bank and Palestinian militant groups' threats to tear up the deal, according to Palestinian analysts and observers. 

But they said that the ceasefire is undoubtedly in danger and faces collapse if Israel dose not adopt immediate steps to end its military operations in the West Bank.

"The deal would remain fragile, unless it is followed by more steps on the ground, especially by Israel, to enforce the aural deal and promote it into wider talks that could lead to a permanent mutual written truce between the two sides," said Ashrafel-Ajrami, a political analyst from Gaza.

Ajrami called on Israel to stop its military actions and arrest campaign in the West Bank as soon as possible to enable the fragile truce to go on.

Israeli side welcomed the ceasefire and responded positively from the first day of the ceasefire by stopping its military offensive on northern Gaza Strip and pulling the troops out of the area.

However, Israel's positive steps did not get equivalent response from the Palestinian side, from which rocket attacks were still launched into Israel.

Facing the violations of the ceasefire by some minor Palestinian militant groups, Israel exhibited its patience to some extent and decided to pursue restraint policy.

However, it still rejected to extend the ceasefire to the West Bank regardless of Palestinian threats of breaking down the current truce with Israel.

(Xinhua News Agency December 6, 2006 )

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