Palestinians and Israel reach deal on soldier

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 soldier Gilad Shalit would first be handed over to Egypt.

“An agreement has been reached about exchanging prisoners that 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.

Israeli media quoted Israeli officials as saying they “know nothing of such a breakthrough”.

A senior official said on Tuesday Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would seek a meeting with Abbas if the gunmen in the Gaza Strip released the soldier.

The gunmen abducted the soldier in a cross-border raid on June 25. Israel subsequently started a major offensive in Gaza to release him which has so far killed more than 200 Palestinians, about half of them civilians.