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Peres: ‘Real progress’ in Shalit talks

JERUSALEM (JTA) – "Real progress" has been made in negotiations to release a captured Israeli soldier, President Shimon Peres confirmed.

Peres discussed the issue of Gilad Shalit at a meeting Sunday with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.

"There is no doubt that real progress has been made on the issue of Gilad Shalit, but the details must be kept behind the scene," Peres said Sunday after returning to Jerusalem following the meeting.

The president’s confirmation came on the heels of a Fox News report Sunday that Israel has approved a final list of 70 prisoners to be exchanged as part of the 450 prisoners named by Hamas in exchange for Shalit. The list replaces 70 other prisoners that were rejected by the Jewish state.

Hamas has said it plans to hold the prisoner exchange on Friday, the day of a Muslim feast.

Meanwhile, Peres told Mubarak during their meeting Sunday that Israel will stop building settlements once the Palestinians start negotiating.

The presidents discussed efforts to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mubarak called on Israel to stop building on land in the West Bank and in eastern Jerusalem, and to take "brave steps" to advance the Middle East peace process.

Peres said the Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had promised to halt construction in the settlements once the Palestinians sat with Israel for talks.

"The minute we shall start to negotiate, there won’t be new settlements, there won’t be confiscation of land," he said.

Peres called the settlements issue "marginal," saying "it is some building of houses that became a central issue for the wrong reasons."

"My answer is even this issue can be settled by negotiations and agreement," he said.

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