A leading member of the Hamas Political Bureau, Mahmoud al-Zahar, says that negotiations between the Palestinian resistance movement and Israel over a prisoner swap involving Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and hundreds of long-serving Palestinian prisoners would be impossible unless the demands of Hamas are met.
"We look forward to seeing our people free and would like to give a chance to the Israeli family to see their loved one. The Israeli side, however, is backtracking on its promise, despite rounds of talks held," al-Zahar said at the Islamic University in Gaza city on Sunday.
Sources involved in talks aimed at securing Gilad Shalit’s release say the Palestinian side has called on Tel Aviv and Washington to exclude ‘heavyweight’ prisoners Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Sa’adat.
Palestinian officials now hope that Barghouti and Sa’adat, who were originally supposed to be set free in the first release stage, will now be released in 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 would not like to see Hamas get credit for the senior prisoners’ release.
Israel is likely to 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 goodwill ‘gesture’ to the Palestinians.
The decision was made by the Israeli High Court of Justice, responding to a petition filed by the Israeli group Amagor and three bereaved families against the prisoner swap deal.
Gilad Shalit has been in Palestinian captivity since he was captured by Gaza Strip fighters in a cross-border raid on June 25, 2006.
According to the head of the census department at the Palestinian Ministry of Detainees, Abdul-Nasser Farawna, Israel currently holds 7300 Palestinians in its prisons. Among those detained are 33 women, 300 children, 17 legislators, and two former ministers.