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Progress in Shalit talks

Israel and Hamas appear to be nearing a deal for the return of captive soldier Gilad Shalit.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has approved in principle the release of some Palestinian prisoners “with blood on their hands” as part of a future Egyptian-mediated exchange in which Shalit would be returned, Israeli security sources said Monday.

Hamas wants Israel to free 1,400 prisoners, among them senior terrorists, as ransom for Shalit, who was abducted to the Gaza Strip by Hamas-led gunmen in June 2006. Olmert has balked at granting an amnesty to Palestinians jailed for deadly attacks, and it is not clear how many could be released under his new directives.

Security sources said the Prisons Service would assemble a list of candidates that would be voted on by the Cabinet.

Israel may ultimately free as many as 1,000 prisoners, though most of them would not be senior terrorists, sources said.

Ma’ariv reported that Hamas passed Shalit’s family a signed letter by the captive soldier in a show of goodwill. Shalit’s family declined comment.

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