Zahar plays down last-minute issues in Schalit deal

Hamas leader minimizes importance of releasing additional female Palestinian prisoners in radio interview, says ICRC will oversee exchange.

October 16, 2011 21:59
3 minute read.
Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar

Mahmoud al-Zahar smirking (R) 311. (photo credit: Reuters)


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Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar played down the importance of a last-minute stumbling block regarding four female prisoners in the Gilad Schalit deal, in a radio interview broadcast on Sunday evening.

Zahar told Aaron Klein on New York's WABC Radio, “We are committed to what we agreed upon, but we are calling on the Egyptians to help the Palestinian people set the women free.”

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“This is a small point [that] can be solved at any time, Inshallah."

Zahar said he was not aware that Israel was holding four female prisoners in addition to the 27 negotiated in the deal, and asked that they be also released.

“We discussed this issue before in order to release all the females, then we discovered there are four additional women,” Zahar said.

The issue of the four female prisoners was raised during negotiator David Meidan’s most recent visit to Cairo to work out final details of the Schalit exchange.

Zahar also confirmed Sunday evening, during an interview on Aaron Klein's radio show on New York's WABC Radio, that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) would facilitate the process of exchanging Gilad Schalit for the Palestinian prisoners.

“The mechanism is going to be done by the ICRC,” he said, adding that the ICRC’s chief met with Hamas Sunday in Gaza and was scheduled to meet with Israel Monday to finalize the process.

“At the moment the prisoners will reach the West Bank and Gaza, and the others Egypt, the soldier will be at the hand of the Israelis,” Zahar said.

Earlier on Sunday, Zahar claimed that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would not have been able to bring about a release of Palestinian prisoners such as Hamas achieved in the Schalit deal.

"Abu Mazen [Abbas] was negotiating a million years and has not achieved such a deal, and he demanded that they [the prisoners] be released without offering anything in return," Zahar said during an interview with Army Radio.

The Hamas leader called on the Israeli government to release all Palestinian prisoners gradually "to prevent the need for such transactions in future."

"This is not a comprehensive deal," Zahar explained. "We don't have ten soldiers or ten prisoners that we can negotiate with in order to bring about the release all [the Palestinian] prisoners."

During the interview, Zahar rejected criticism that Hamas did not receive the results that they ultimately wanted in terms of how many prisoners will be released as part of the deal.

Despite successful negotiations to release over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, Hamas is not interested in holding any further direct talks with Israel, the group’s deputy foreign minister said in an interview with Channel 10, which aired on Saturday.

Previous contacts were held because “we were willing to deal with problems,” Razi Hamed explained in accented, but fluent Hebrew. “Problems of prisoners, problems of cease-fires... but there are no direct contacts between Israel and Hamas.”

The Gaza-based group, he said, “opposes direct negotiations with Israel.”

Hamed began holding back-channel contacts with co-founder of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) and Jerusalem Post columnist Gershon Baskin in July of this year, as part of an attempt to resolve the five-year-old case of Gilad Schalit.

It was only when those contacts were initiated four months ago, Hamed said, that “I knew that it was possible to reach a deal.”

Michael Omer-Man contributed to this report.

Click for full JPost coverage of Gilad Schalit

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