A leading member of the Hamas political bureau, Mahmoud al-Zahar, says negotiations between the movement and Israel over a prisoner swap involving Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and hundreds of long-serving Palestinian prisoners have broken down.
In an interview with BBC’s Hardtalk program on Tuesday, the prominent leader of the Islamic Resistance Movement held Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accountable for the failure of talks on the exchange deal.
Zahar pointed out that Netanyahu is adamantly opposed to the release of ‘heavyweight’ Palestinian prisoners Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Sa’adat.
The status of Sa’adat and Barghouti is one of the most sensitive issues in the discussions on the Hamas-Israel prisoner swap deal.
"As regarding negotiations, as of now the process has failed. The main cause, well known to everybody, well known to the mediator, that after the interference of the political element, after the appearance of Netanyahu personally, there was a big regression and retraction. For this reason negotiations have now stopped,” Zahar said.
"We are looking to set free our people and also to give a chance for the family of the Israeli soldier to live as a human being also. We demanded a considerable number of prisoners, but the Israeli side, after hundreds of rounds of talks, reached backward too much," he noted.
Should a prisoner swap take place, Israel would release 980 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit — who has been in Hamas custody for over three years.
According to the head of the census department at the Palestinian Ministry of Detainees, Abdul-Nasser Farawna, Israel currently holds 7,300 Palestinians in prison. Among the detainees, are 33 women, 300 children, 17 legislators and two former ministers.