Palestinians, Israel reach deal on soldier

MANAMA: Israel and the Palestinians have reached an agreement to swap the Israeli soldier held hostage in Gaza with imprisoned Palestinians, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was quoted on Tuesday as saying.

Abbas told Bahrain's Akhbar Al-Khaleej newspaper that soldier Gilad Shalit would first be handed over to Egypt. "An agreement has been reached on exchanging prisoners. The agreement is based on Egypt taking the soldier as a deposit, and after that the number of Palestinian prisoners-of-war would be announced," Abbas said in the interview.

The Israeli media quoted Israeli officials as saying that they "knew nothing of such a breakthrough".

Deputy Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, however, said on Tuesday that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would seek a meeting with Abbas if gunmen in Gaza Strip released the soldier who was abducted in a cross-border raid. Israel wants Hamas to abandon its charter calling for the Jewish state's destruction, and to renounce violence, as a precondition for talks. Abbas argues he could still be Israel's interlocutor, circumventing Hamas.

An Abbas aide said the president had yet to be invited for a summit with Olmert.

An Israeli political source said Olmert had held off on a summit because he expected Abbas to demand the release of some of the Palestinians jailed in Israel. Meanwhile, at least two Palestinians were killed when their car exploded in Rafah town near Gaza Strip. Nine others standing near the vehicle were injured. It was not immediately clear what caused the blast. reuters