Israeli army chief backs direct contacts with Hamas over prisoner exchange deal
Israeli army chief Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi is backing the option to hold direct contacts with the Hamas movement to get a captured soldier released, Israel's army radio reported on Monday.
Contacts with the rulers of the Gaza Strip should be established in order "to secure the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit and to stop the rocket fire" from Gaza Strip into Israel, the radio quoted Ashkenazi as telling a closed-door meeting recently. Egypt has for months been mediating between Israel and Hamas over a prisoner exchange that would see Shalit freed.
Ashkenazi is also reportedly supporting the government's move to relaxing criteria for releasing Palestinian prisoners in return for Shalit.
Officially, Israel refuses to have any dealings with Hamas. So far, Israeli leaders have demanded that Hamas recognise it, renounce violence and agree to abide by past peace deals before it will have dealings with the group.
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