(MENAFN - Arab News) Hamas said Wednesday it was considering Israel's latest proposal for the swap of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for a soldier captured by Gaza fighters three years ago.
"The German mediator gave the Israeli proposal to the Hamas movement during a morning meeting," Taher Al-Nunu, a spokesman for the Hamas-run government, told AFP on Wednesday.
"Hamas is studying this proposal at all levels and when it has a response it will contact the mediator," who has left Gaza, he added.
The mediator has led indirect negotiations for the release of Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit, 23, who was captured by Hamas and two other groups in a cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip in June 2006.
Both sides have been tight-lipped about the discussions, but the Hamas-run government said after a weekly meeting that freeing prisoners remained "at the top of its priorities."
"The government affirms that it will stand by the demands of the resistance factions until it can bring about the release of all prisoners from the occupation prisons," it said in a statement.
On Tuesday, Hamas blamed Israel for stalling efforts to swap hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for Shalit after the Jewish state reportedly exp-ressed reservations over Hamas' latest offer.
The two sides had appeared to be close to reaching a deal, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holding five meetings in less than 48 hours with his top ministers before delivering the offer to the mediator, who has not been officially identified.
"I am torn between the desire to free a hostage and the desire to protect Israeli citizens against future attacks," Netanyahu told family members of Israelis killed in attacks concerned by the proposed prisoner exchange, which could include the release of several top Palestinian fighters. Local media said that in its reply, Israel balked at allowing some of the released Palestinians to return to their homes in the occupied West Bank, insisting they instead go to Gaza or third countries.
"Israel reported favorably to the general outline presented by the German mediator," the Ynet news website said. "Part of the reservations are the names of the heavyweight prisoners that Israel demands be deported."
According to Israeli and Palestinian officials, Israel would free 450 fighters, including many involved in deadly attacks, in exchange for Shalit.
An additional 500 prisoners would be released at a later stage. There are currently some 8,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
Germany, which has a history of mediating successful prisoner exchanges between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah, dispatched its mediator to join the talks earlier this year after months of unsuccessful Egyptian mediation.
Hamas and two smaller Palestinian groups captured Shalit in June 2006 when they tunneled into Israel out of Gaza and attacked an army post, killing two soldiers.
Captured Israeli soldier Shalit has become a cause celebre in Israel, which in past deals has traded thousands of prisoners for its captured soldiers and their remains, fulfilling what many Israelis view as a sacred duty to bring its troops home.