Thursday, December 24, 2009

Arab Reports: Hamas flexible on prisoner expulsion

Published Thursday (updated) 24/12/2009 17:16

Bethlehem – Ma’an – Hamas is leaning toward accepting Israel’s demand to
deport more than 100 prisoners in an exchange deal that would secure the
release of a captured soldier, news reports said on Thursday.

The Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal reported on Wednesday that Hamas would allow
123 prisoners to be deported in an exchange that would also see the release
of some 1,000 Palestinians from Israeli prisons.

Israel wants to deport prisoners who were convicted of carrying out or
organizing attacks that resulted in the deaths of Israelis. Many of the
attacks in question took place in the context of the second Palestinian
intifada against the Israeli occupation.

The swap deal now hinges on the demand to expel these prisoners either to
Gaza or abroad, rather than release them to the West Bank.

Senior Hamas officials from the Gaza Strip were expected to travel on
Thursday to Damascus to meet with the group’s top political leaders,
including Khalid Mash’al, to discuss Israel’s latest response. Hamas
received the response from a German intermediary who visited Gaza on

The deputy head of Hamas' Political Bureau, Moussa Abu Marzouk said on
Wednesday that Hamas would respond to the mediator within a few days.

Abu Marzouk, one of the leaders living in exile in Damascus, told the
London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat 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 listed by Hamas, on condition
that 100 would be expelled. Another 500 prisoners would be released in the
deal, but were not specified on Hamas’ list.

Hamas sources also told Al-Hayat that Israel is refusing to release certain
high-profile prisoners, including Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi, PFLP
Secretary-General Ahmad Sa'adat, and Hamas military leader Abdallah

The issue of expulsion is sensitive for the families of the prisoners. Some
families interviewed by Ma’an said that while they prefer their relatives
unconditional release, they would except exile to Gaza.

Abla Sa’adat, the wife of Ahmad Sa’adat, told Ma’an, "My husband’s position
is that he wants to stay in the country, but under the worst circumstance he
would accept deportation to Gaza."

Deporting prisoners would also put Israel in direct violation of the
US-backed Road Map peace plan. Authored soon after the deportation of
Palestinian fighters after the siege of the Church of the Nativity, the
document obligates Israel to "[take] no actions undermining trust, including

Gaza Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahhar said Wednesday that after delivering
Israel's response, the German mediator left Gaza and returned to Germany for
Christmas. He said the mediator would be returning to the Strip in a few
days, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Israel is negotiating with Hamas through German and Egyptian mediators in
hopes of freeing Gilad Shalit, a soldier captured in 2006 from a military
base by militants who tunneled into Israel from Gaza.

Also on Wednesday, Israel’s military chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Gabi
Ashkenazi said that returning Shalit home was a national duty.

"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 the Israeli port city of 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," he
said, according to Haaretz.