Prisoner Exchange May Not Speed Mideast Talks

Palestinians have been celebrating the release of nearly 500 prisoners in an exchange with Israel that freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. It will be weeks before the second phase of the prisoner exchange takes place. Washington has offered a new meeting of the Mideast Quartet as a sign peacekeeping efforts are still alive, but few expect progress.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

There's both celebration and anxiety this day after Israelis and Palestinians completed the first phase of their prisoner exchange. The unprecedented plan trades more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for one kidnapped Israeli soldier.

SHAPIRO: It will be weeks before the second part of the swap takes place. Israel still has to release 550 Palestinian inmates of its own choosing. The joy of the releases was mixed on the Palestinian side, with calls for more kidnappings and opposition to negotiations with Israel.

MONTAGNE: We're going to look at some of the fallout from that swap for both Palestinians and Israelis, beginning with NPR's Peter Kenyon.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: In the Gaza strip yesterday, hundreds of prisoners were welcomed home as heroes of the resistance.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CHEERING CROWD)

KENYON: One of the most popular chants yesterday was the people demand another Gilad Shalit, a call for capturing more Israeli soldiers in hopes of freeing the more than 5,000 Palestinians still in Israeli jails.

As Israelis and Palestinians examine the political landscape in the wake of the Israel-Hamas prisoner exchange, several factors emerge. One clear shift appears to be warmer relations for the moment between the Islamist Hamas and Egypt's interim military government. Whether that's because Egypt is becoming more open to political Islam or because it wants to regain its stature as a diplomatic player in the region is an open question.

But speaking in Cairo last night, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal - heard hear in translation - told released prisoners soon to be deported to third countries that they were the pride of Palestine.

KHALED MESHAAL: (Through translator) And those who have their fingers at the trigger will remain the pride of Palestine. It's through you and through your brothers Palestine will be freed.

KENYON: For the Palestinian Authority, it's a time to regroup. Washington offered a new meeting of the Mid-East quartet as a sign that peacekeeping efforts are still alive, but few here see much hope for progress anytime soon in that direction.

In the meantime, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is preparing to meet Meshaal, possibly in Cairo, to explore the prospects of a Palestinian unity government.

What's worrying some on the Palestinian side is the thought that Israeli angst at the release of hundreds of prisoners convicted of killing Israeli civilians could morph into a push to delay or cancel phase two of the prisoner exchange, involving 550 additional prisoners. That fear will only grow if a fresh round of attacks is mounted in the coming weeks.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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