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In Israel, sentiment mixed on negotiations for Gilad Shalit release

Many Israelis have rallied around a Gilad Shalit release deal, but critics say an exchange of the captured soldier for Palestinian prisoners could cause new wave of violence.

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The Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper and the Maan news agency are reporting that Shalit will be flown from Gaza to Cairo by helicopter and held until the release of all the Hamas prisoners is completed, as a guarantee that Israel won't renege on its end of the deal. Other Arab media reports in the past 24 hours indicated that Shalit was transferred out of the Gaza Strip when senior Palestinian officials left for Egypt last week, but Hamas officials denied that report's veracity on Thursday.

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In another factor of the debate, Israel apparently has demanded that some of the prisoners be expelled from the country. Among those whose names have been discussed is Marwan Barghouti, a popular leader in Fatah who was convicted by an Israeli court in 2004 of five counts of murder. Mr. Barghouti has been cited as a potential successor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who says he will not seek reelection next year.

Differences between Hamas officials in Gaza, Damascus?

Several reports suggested that the hold-up in progress could be due to differences of approach between Hamas officials in Gaza and Damascus. The two have often been split before, with the "outside" leadership of Hamas taking a harder-line position that that of leaders inside Gaza.

Prisoner swaps have always been controversial in Israel, and the public's ideals for dealing with issue have some contradictory elements.

One the one hand, the military's ethos says that no soldier should be left behind, and even soldiers' remains have been brought home in exchange for the release of several hundred Palestinian and Lebanese nationals held in Israeli jails. On the other, many politicians have called for Israel not to release prisoners "with blood on their hands."

Indeed, Israelis seem unsure of whom to support first: the parents who have lost children in waves of violence that gripped this land at the beginning of the decade, or the parents who would like to see their son home before the decade is up.

"There is no doubt about it: When it comes to Gilad Shalit, Israel has lost its senses and good judgment," journalist Ari Shavit wrote in last week's Ha'aretz. "Every possible mistake has been made. Every emotional weakness has come to the fore. A failed government, a hasty media and a confused public has made the Shalit affair insufferable. Gilad has become an obsession, a focus for a national pathology."

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