Israel’s president has fuelled hope that captured soldier Gilad Shalit will soon be released. Shalit was kidnapped by Palestinian militants in Gaza almost three and a half years ago.Now President Shimon Peres has become the first Israeli official to announce that “progress” has been made in negotiations to free him. Speculation has intensified recently that the Israeli and Palestinian sides have agreed to a prisoner swap facilitated by a German mediator. Arabic media have reported that the exchange could take place as early as Friday. Israeli officials had been tight-lipped on the negotiations, until Peres’ statement. Last month Israel released 20 Palestinian women in return for proof Shalit was still alive. Any deal for his freedom is thought to include the return of hundreds more Palestinian prisoners.