Mubarak accuses Israel of aborting deal for captive soldier

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CAIRO: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak accused Israel of scuttling a deal that was on the verge of ending the three-year captivity in Gaza of soldier Gilad Shalit, in an interview published in Israel s top-selling daily on Friday.

Mubarak, whose government has led efforts to broker the release of the young conscript seized by Palestinian insurgents in a cross-border raid in June 2006, told Yediot Aharonot that Shalit was about to be transferred to Egyptian safekeeping when Israel altered its terms for the envisaged prisoner swap.

There are terms for ending the problem of Gilad Shalit and we were on the verge of resolving it but you delayed the matter, Mubarak said in the interview, carried by Egypt s official MENA news agency on Thursday evening.

We were on the verge of receiving Shalit from Hamas and of putting him with us until you released some Palestinian (prisoners), he said, referring to the Islamist group that controls Gaza.

You kept saying we ll release this one but not that one and the matter was complicated when you introduced new elements.

When asked when the deal was to have taken place, Mubarak didn’t answer.

Shalit, who also has French citizenship, has become a cause celebre on Israel. His family has been deeply critical of successive Israeli governments for failing to secure his release through an exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

Mubarak said that Shalit remained in good health in the hands of his Hamas captors despite his long ordeal, even though similar remarks by the Egyptian president earlier this week were dismissed by the Islamist movement as wishful thinking.

Both Arab and Israeli media reported last month that Shalit was to be imminently transferred to Egyptian safekeeping, pending Israel s release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange.

An Egyptian intelligence official and security officials at the border with Gaza told AFP at the time that they had been instructed to prepare for Shalit s transfer, which they said could happen at any moment.

Both Israel and Hamas strongly denied the reports.

In the interview, Mubarak said he told Israeli officials not to openly discuss the soldier.

I told the Israeli leadership, don t talk about the Shalit issue and it will gradually be resolved, he said.

The more you consider the Shalit issue important, the more they (Hamas) will harden their position.

Israeli officials visited Egypt twice this month to discuss Shalit s release.

Senior defense ministry official Amos Gilad met Egyptian officials in Cairo on Thursday, official media reported, two days after Israeli President Shimon Peres met Mubarak in the Egyptian capital.

Gilad was Israel s pointman in Egyptian-brokered truce negotiations with Hamas after Israel’s devastating 22-day assault on Gaza in December and January ended in unilateral ceasefires by both sides.

The talks broke down when Israel made any truce deal conditional on Shalit s prior release.

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