GAZA UPDATE….An aide to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, tells the Guardian that various Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have agreed to a deal in Gaza:

The deal, agreed on Sunday, is to halt the rocket attacks in return for a cessation of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, and to release Corporal Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured on June 25, in exchange for the freeing of Palestinian prisoners at some point in the future.

….According to the aide, Israel is willing to release Palestinian prisoners in return for Cpl Shalit but insists the exchange will not be simultaneous and its release of prisoners will be described as a “goodwill gesture” and not as a direct exchange.

This has been accepted by Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, and the Hamas political movement but not by Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader in Damascus. Mr Meshal wields considerable power because he controls funds donated by Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. The military wing of Hamas, which is holding Cpl Shalit, is particularly dependent on the money from Mr Meshal.

It’s always wise not to get too excited by reports of a possible “deal” in the Middle East, but this is still positive news. For one thing, if Meshal decides to buy in, it might be an indication that Iran and Syria are interested in cooling down a situation that’s spiraled far beyond what they originally envisioned, and that in turn might be a sign that they’re willing to put some pressure on Hezbollah to turn down the heat in Lebanon.

Then again, maybe not. In any case, stay tuned.

UPDATE: Brad Plumer provides some additional background here.

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