Captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit will not be released until Palestinian prisoners are released from Israeli prisons, Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal during a mass rally in the Syrian capital on Friday to mark the one-year anniversary of IDF Operation Cast Lead.
Mashaal accused Israel of obstructing talks to secure a prisoner swap deal in which the soldier - held captive by Hamas in Gaza since 2006 - would be freed in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian detainees, some of them security prisoners convicted of terrorist acts.
However, most of the Hamas leader's speech did not center on the Schalit issue. Instead, it made sweeping references to what he termed the Palestinians' "victory" against the IDF last winter, according to a report by Iran's Press TV.
While Mashaal admitted that the IDF had emerged victorious due to military superiority, he stressed that the operation had failed to quell Palestinian resistance or crush the Palestinian spirit.
The Palestinians will never cooperate with Israel and never cease to resist the "occupation," he was quoted by Iran's Press TV as saying. He urged all Palestinians and Muslims to unite, stressing that Allah had been the key to the Gazans' spiritual victory against the IDF.
Mashaal also made a thinly veiled reference to the Palestinian Authority, which has led the West Bank to relative prosperity and brought about the removal of several checkpoints by cracking down on terrorist elements and collaborating with Israeli security forces. Diplomacy and dependence on outside entities such as the West and the US is "humiliating" and only serves to benefit Israel, he cautioned.
The Hamas head also reportedly referred to the blockade on Gaza, calling for Arab League member states to address the issue at a summit set to take place in Libya in March. He added that Israel would come up short in its efforts to isolate the movement.
Contrary to reports that Hamas was ready to accept Israel's right to exist
, Mashaal vowed to the crowd in Damascus that the Islamic movement would "never recognize the Zionist entity."