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Hamas says truce imminent; Shalit may go free

(JTA) — Hamas officials say a truce with Israel is days away and separate reports say Gilad Shalit’s release is also imminent.

Moussa Abu Marzouq, Hamas’ deputy political leader, told reporters on Thursday in Cairo, where Egypt has been brokering a truce deal, that a truce deal could go into effect as soon as next week. Media quoted Egyptian officials as saying a formal announcement would come as early as Friday.

The 18-month, renewable deal would open crossings into the Gaza Strip and end the rocket attacks on southern Israel that sparked the most recent war in Gaza. The war drastically reduced rocket fire but did not end it completely. Two rockets and a mortar hit Israel on Friday, reports said; there were no injuries.

Separately, Al Hayat, a London-based Saudi-owned newspaper said Gilad Shalit, the Israeli corporal captured in a cross-border raid by Hamas militiamen in June 2006, would be released next week in exchange for 1,000 Palestinian detainees, mostly women, children and Hamas lawmakers. That would be less than the 1,400 or so prisoners Hamas has demanded, including senior terrorists.

Israel Radio reported that Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ Damascus-based leader, denied that such a prisoner exchange deal was imminent.

Shalit’s father, Noam, met Thursday with Tony Blair, the former British prime minister who is the chief international envoy to peace talks, and extracted from him a promise to press Hamas to release his son.

Abu Marzouq was also meeting in Cairo with Ahmed Qureia, a senior leader of Fatah, the relatively moderate group governing Palestinians in the West Bank.

The leaders agreed to release detainees on both sides and to stop political attacks ahead of reconciliation talks, which are to begin in two weeks. Hamas drove Fatah forces out of Gaza in June 2007 in a bloody coup.

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