Report: Hamas Likely To Accept Israel Offer On Shalit


hamas-in-cairoHamas announced yesterday that the German mediator involved in the talks to release kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit had delivered Israel’s offer.¬† Media outlets in the Gaza Strip reported yesterday that a Hamas delegation would head from Gaza to Cairo today, and then to Damascus, where they would meet with members of Hamas’ political wing there to discuss their response to what Israel has put on the table.

At the center of Israel’s demands is an insistence that between 100 and 130 of the Palestinian prisoners who are to be released in exchange for Shalit – individuals convicted of direct responsibility for the deaths of Israelis – will be expelled to the Gaza Strip or abroad and barred from returning to the West Bank. However, Hamas is insisting that all released prisoners be allowed to return to their homes.

Hamas is expected to respond favorably to Israel’s offer, but will demand that the number of expelled prisoners be reduced. Negotiations are then expected to continue over the names and numbers of those to be expelled.

The London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat yesterday quoted Hamas sources as saying Israel was to blame for the delay in the prisoner swap because it was conditioning the release of the Palestinian prisoners on the expulsion of no less than 100 of them, and was refusing to release certain “major” prisoners.

Israel reportedly has not agreed to the release of Marwan Barghouti, Ahmed Sa’adat, Ibrahim Hamed, Abdallah Barghouti, Abbas Sayed, Jamal Abu-Hija and Hassan Salameh.

It was not ruled out that rather than sending a delegation to Damascus, Hamas members in Gaza would report their position to Damascus by means of an emissary, and then wait a number of days for a response from their Damascus bureau. Meanwhile, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said yesterday that as chief of staff he was “obliged to bring [Shalit] back home safely.”

Gaza Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said yesterday that after delivering Israel’s response, the German mediator left Gaza and returned to Germany. He said the mediator would be returning to the Strip in a few days.

The deputy head of Hamas’ political wing, Musa Abu-Marzuk, who spoke with Al-Hayat, refused to discuss the matter of the deportation of released prisoners, noting that Hamas did not accept this position. He said the matter was still under negotiation, and that there had been “unprecedented progress, but still not enough so that the deal would get underway, because of disagreements with the Israeli security establishment.”

Al-Hayat also reported that, according to Western diplomatic sources, Israel had agreed to release 443 out of 450 prisoners, on condition that 100 would be expelled to the Gaza Strip or other countries.

The Shalit family and members of the group working for Gilad Shalit’s release have been keeping a low profile as long as Hamas has not responded to Israel’s latest offer. “We have no one to yell at as long as the work is going on,” Shimson Leibman, the head of the group working for Shalit’s release, told Haaretz.

“Bringing back Gilad Shalit is a national mission, and both covert and overt actions are being carried out to do so,” Ashkenazi told a gathering of youth groups in Ashdod on Wednesday.

“As the chief of staff, I am responsible for every soldier. I feel obliged to bring him back home; naturally it’s better to keep a discussion of the details to closed forums, but I hope that the mission will be completed,” Ashkenazi told them.

Ashkenazi’s reported support for the deal with Hamas for Shalit’s release recently led to a clash with Prime Minister¬† Netanyahu’s political adviser Uzi Arad, who opposes the swap.

{Haaretz/Yair Israel}