Breaking: Pali PM says Centanni could be released "within hours" (Update: Unconditional?) (Update: Debka fingers Hamas) (Update:: FREED)

He’s putting a bit of prestige on the line by saying this, so I doubt he’s blowing smoke. Fingers crossed.

More good news: he claims that “those behind the abduction pledged before the Palestinian government not to harm the captives.” Obviously, then, they know who the kidnappers are now.

Check back for updates. Looking for more now.

Update: The Associated Press:

“We hope that this issue is going to be over in the coming hours,” Haniyeh, a Hamas leader, said in a statement. “There are promises that the journalists will not be harmed. I hope that this case is going to be ended and solved in a way that reflects that the Palestinians respect their guests.”

Haniyeh did not elaborate.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Abu Hilal said authorities were exerting efforts to release the journalists, but were not negotiating with the kidnappers.

Update: More good news via JPost: Haniyeh says he was promised the two will be released unharmed and unconditionally.

Update: Yesterday I said, “If Hamas benefits from negotiating their release, doesn’t the prime suspect in the kidnapping become … Hamas?” And was quickly taken to task for it in the comments.

Well, guess who’s backing up the big A on this one. Yup. Which means … I’m almost certainly wrong. But here’s their theory anyway, for the record:

The Hamas team which abducted Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit on June 25 sought to ease the pressure for his release by staging a more spectacular snatch. For this reason, they hired Zakaria Dughmush and his masked men to capture the two Fox News journalists in Gaza City on Aug. 14…

Our counter-terror sources reveal that Dughmush was handed the contract to kidnap one or more Americans by the abductors of the Israeli soldier [Gilad Shalit] when their efforts to negotiate a prisoner swap broke down. Hamas ended up refusing the quid pro quo of a promise by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, already deposited with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, to release 600 Palestinian prisoners. They held out for a simultaneous trade and then withdrew from the talks.

They turned to Dughmush when pressure built up to end the episode from many quarters, including the Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya, the Egyptians and the head of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas.

Because neither set of abductors wanted Palestinians branded as kidnappers of Americans, they invented a group no one had heard of, calling it the Brigades of the Holy Jihad.

Update (Michelle): 8am Eastern. Journalists freed and forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint. More here.