Hamas holds firm on prisoner swap

A PRISONER swap deal with Hamas is all but impossible before Prime Minister Ehud Olmert leaves office this week and will have to wait for the new government to be sworn in, a top aide to the Israeli leader said yesterday.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu plans to present his coalition for parliamentary approval tomorrow, clearing the way for him to take office.

Olmert has been trying to work out a last-minute deal with the Hamas rulers of Gaza that would bring home captive Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, who has been held for nearly three years by Palestinian militants in the territory. Egyptian-brokered talks broke down earlier this month with Israel accusing Hamas of making excessive demands.

Olmert’s cabinet secretary, Oved Yehezkel, said contacts are ongoing, but Hamas still has not eased its demands.

“I believe that the way things stand, (these) matters will wait for the new government,” Yehezkel told Army Radio.

Israel and Hamas are discussing a deal that would see hundreds of Palestinian prisoners freed in return for Schalit. Hamas has demanded freedom for dozens of militants involved in deadly attacks on Israelis. But Israel has rejected more than a 100 of the 450 prisoners Hamas wants freed and Yehezkel said the Islamic militant group has not provided a new list of prisoners.

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