Hamas Chief Blames Israel For Stalled Shalit Deal


hamas2Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said Friday that captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit will not be freed unless Israel releases hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. “Shalit will not to home before the liberation of our prisoners,” Meshaal told thousands of people at a ceremony in Syria’s capital Damascus, where he lives in exile.

Meshaal made the remarks during the gathering to mark the first anniversary of the end of Israel’s devastating 22-day offensive on the Gaza Strip.

He blamed Israel for the failure to reach a deal on freeing Shalit, who was captured in June 2006 when Gaza militant groups including Hamas tunnelled out of the territory and attacked an Israeli army post, killing two other soldiers.

On January 10, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu vowed not to release several high-profile Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit.

“We will not agree to release… terror masterminds and never agree to the return of dangerous terrorists to the West Bank,” Netanyahu told members of his Likud party in parliament, according to officials at the meeting.

Israel has been locked in arduous indirect negotiations with Hamas for the release of Shalit, having reportedly agreed to release about 450 prisoners sought by Hamas but balked at several behind particularly bloody attacks.

Netanyahu was apparently referring to Marwan Barghuti, the popular Palestinian leader who Israel holds responsible for instigating the 2000 outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

Barghuti, who was elected to the governing body of the secular Fatah party of Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in August, is currently serving five life sentences for murder and his role in the intifada.

Meshaal said that Netanyhu was “responsible for the failure” to clinch a deal to release Shalit in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

The Hamas politburo chief also urged Arab leaders to help break the Israeli blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip, and said his group will never give up its armed resistance against the Jewish state.

“I ask Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi to add to the agenda of the Arab League summit in Tripoli (March 27-28), the issue of the reconstruction of Gaza and the end of the blockade,” Meshaal said.

Arab countries should also forge “an Arab strategy based on diplomacy and resistance” in order to liberate Arab land held by Israel.

“Hamas will never relinquish the option of (armed) resistance. It will remain our priority… we will not give up our political responsibility toward our people,” he said.

Israel’s offensive on the Gaza Strip ended on January 18, 2009, with mutual ceasefires by Israel and the Palestinian Islamist movement.

The deadly offensive killed some 1,4000 Palestinians, and 13 Israelis also died during “Operation Cast Lead” which devastated the impoverished coastal enclave which Hamas has ruled since driving out Fatah forces in June 2007.

{TehranTimes/Yair Alpert-Matzav.com Israel}