JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has signaled a tougher stance in talks on a possible prisoner swap with Hamas Islamists involving a captive Israeli soldier, an official in his office said on Thursday.
As a German mediator renewed talks between Israel and Hamas after a holiday hiatus, a senior Israeli official said Netanyahu “would not allow any additional maneuvering room” in negotiations that have dragged on for months.
The statement issued by the official suggested the prisoner talks, which seemed near a breakthrough last month, may now take longer than anticipated.
Under a proposed deal about 1,000 of the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails would go free in exchange for the soldier Gilad Shalit, now aged 23, seized by militants who tunneled into Israel from the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu has said privately in the past few days that Israel was “making great efforts to bring Gilad Shalit home, safe and sound, and will continue to do so for a long time” but would insist on meeting Israeli security needs, the official said.
Israel would demand that dozens of Palestinians jailed for involvement in lethal attacks, whose release Hamas has sought, be deported upon their release, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Officials familiar with the talks have said Israel was intent on barring Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis from returning to the occupied West Bank, which is close to Israeli population centers. They might instead be sent to Gaza or foreign countries.
Hamas had accepted that some released prisoners would be exiled but wanted them to be able to choose their destinations, officials have said.
As a right-wing leader, Netanyahu faces a particular dilemma in freeing Palestinians who could commit further violence, though he is also under great public pressure to free the soldier, largely because military conscription in Israel is compulsory.
Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by David Stamp