CAIRO: Speculation has mounted over the fate of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who, reports claim, is to be released to Egyptian custody before handing him over to Israel.
Israeli officials have, however, repeatedly denied the reports.
Palestinian news agency Maan had reported Tuesday that Shalit would be released to Egypt within hours. Another report from Egypt claimed that a top level Egyptian security delegation was to travel secretly to Gaza via the Rafah border crossing “within hours , allegedly to pick him up.
Sources in the area told Daily News Egypt that they had heard that this delegation was to make the trip, though the timing was not specified, but that it could be anytime within the week.
One source told Daily News Egypt that a high ranking army officer had paid a visit to Rafah, possibly to secure the route of Shilat’s return.
Maan had also reported that intelligence official Major General Mohamed Ibrahim was in Tel Aviv Tuesday for urgent talks regarding the prisoner exchange deal.
On Tuesday, however, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu refuted the reports that Shalit was on the verge of release.
The Israeli Embassy in Cairo told Daily News Egypt that they did not have any information on the issue.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was in Egypt Sunday to meet with President Hosni Mubarak. Shalit was one of the topics on the agenda. However, after the meeting Barak refused to comment on the speculation, telling Haaretz, “The less I talk about it as defense minister, the better.
Shilat was taken in a raid in 2006 and his whereabouts have remained unknown ever since.
A Palestinian source allegedly from one of the groups holding Shalit told Yediot Ahoronot that Shilat would not be released as has been reported but that significant progress had been made regarding the prisoner exchange talks.
“There has been huge progress in the past two weeks, and we expect this progress to continue and maybe even to lead to a breakthrough very soon, he told the Israeli newspaper.
At the Rafah border crossing, 90 Palestinians returned to Gaza Wednesday after having been treated in Egypt. The crossing is expected to remain open for three days starting Saturday.