The FINANCIAL — TEL AVIV, Israel's prime minister has postponed until March 17 a cabinet session to debate a Hamas prisoner swap aimed at securing the release of a soldier seized by militants almost 3 years ago, his press service said on March 16.
Hamas is demanding the release of at least 450 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a 22-year-old Israeli conscript seized by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid in June 2006. There are reportedly more than 11,000 Palestinian prisoners currently being held in Israeli jails.
"In light of the negotiations that are currently continuing in Cairo regarding the release of Gilad Shalit, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided … to postpone by 24 hours the cabinet meeting that was scheduled for Monday," the press service said in a statement.
Two Israeli senior envoys – special negotiator Ofer Dekel and the head of Israel's Shin Beth internal security service Yuval Diskin – are currently holding crucial talks in Cairo with Egyptian mediators on the conditions for the prisoner swap with Palestinian militants.
Olmert has recently intensified efforts to secure the release of Shalit in an apparent attempt to end his three-year term in office on a positive note.
According to experts, a new Israeli government, which is being formed by right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu, could be less willing to discuss the release of prisoners in light of continuing militant rocket attacks on Israeli regions bordering Gaza.