The German mediator overseeing talks between Hamas and Israel over the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and hundreds of long-serving Palestinian prisoners has given the two sides 2 to 3 weeks to reach a consensus.
“The mediator involved in negotiations for the release of Shalit and the Palestinian prisoners would resign from his post if Hamas and Israel fail to secure a prisoner swap deal,” acting Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas was quoted as saying by the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram on Saturday.
Abbas added that the release of any Palestinian prisoner was an accomplishment in the eyes of his people.
The implementation of a prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and Israel is waiting for an Israeli decision. The Fox News network reported on Friday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been reluctant to sign a prisoner exchange deal that Hamas presented three weeks ago.
Sources involved in talks aimed at securing Gilad Shalit’s release say the Palestinians have called on Tel Aviv and Washington to exclude ‘heavyweight’ prisoners Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Sa’adat, who were originally supposed to be included in the first release stage.
Palestinian officials now hope that Barghouti and Sa’adat will be released as part of the second stage. The status of Sa’adat and Barghouti is one of the most sensitive issues in the discussions on the Shalit deal. Palestinian Authority officials prefer not to see Hamas get credit for the senior prisoners’ release.
Israel would likely release 980 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Hamas more than three years ago.
The Israeli government is likely to free the 450 prisoners that Hamas has asked for in exchange for Shalit, as well as an additional 530 prisoners, as a ‘gesture’ to the Palestinians.
The decision was made by the Israeli High Court of Justice, responding to a petition filed by the Amagor Israeli group and three bereaved families against the prisoner swap deal.
The bereaved families wanted the court to reveal why the criteria for the prisoner release were not made public, and why there is military censorship on information that should be available to the public.
Gilad Shalit has been in Palestinian captivity since he was captured by Gaza Strip fighters in a cross-border raid on June 25, 2006.
More than 11,500 Palestinians, including women and children, are currently imprisoned in Israeli detention facilities, suffering harsh and life-threatening conditions.