Ramon: Hamas may scuttle Schalit deal

Hamas rep tells Channel 10 that if Israel does not agree to demands, Schalit will suffer fate of Arad.

Gilad Schalit 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Gilad Schalit 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Vice Premier Haim Ramon warned Hamas on Sunday that its refusal to reduce its demands would doom a deal to swap Palestinian prisoners for captive soldier Gilad Schalit. Ramon spoke at the end of a ministerial meeting that debated relaxing the criteria for the release of Hamas prisoners, in hopes of concluding a swap for Schalit. Ramon said the onus was not just on Israel. "If there is no flexibility in Hamas' demands as well, it won't be possible to reach a deal," he said. According to Channel 10, a Hamas representative warned on Sunday that if Israel did not agree to a deal, Schalit was in danger of suffering the same fate as airman Ron Arad, who disappeared in 1988 after he had been held captive in Lebanon for two years. Hamas is reportedly demanding some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for the release of Schalit, who was kidnapped by the group along the Gaza border in June 2006. Initially it had asked for 450 prisoners but upped the ante following Israel's release last month of Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, four Hizbullah prisoners and the bodies of 200 terrorists and infiltrators for the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Among the issues under debate by the ministerial committee headed by Ramon is the issue of releasing prisoners with "blood on their hands." The committee, which also includes Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter (Kadima), Environmental Minister Gideon Ezra (Kadima) and Minister without Portfolio Ami Ayalon (Labor), did not finish its work and plans to meet again in the near future, although no date has been set. It reportedly only discussed general criteria for release and did not put together a list to be presented to Hamas. Sunday's meeting took place after the return of Defense Minister Ehud Barak from Egypt last week. Barak asked the Egyptians, who are mediating the deal, to exert more pressure on Hamas to reduce its demands and renew negotiations. He reportedly left without making an impact on the situation. On Friday, Barak called Noam Schalit, Gilad Schalit's father, to update him on the situation regarding his son, who turned 22 last Thursday, having spent his third birthday in captivity. Noam Schalit told The Jerusalem Post he couldn't divulge details of the conversation but that it was his understanding that there had been no progress toward bringing his son home. In an interview with Channel 2 Sunday evening, Barak said: "I see the pain of [Gilad's parents] Aviva and Noam, and I look them in the eyes and say, 'I understand your feelings that we have not returned him,' as a former IDF chief of General Staff who led soldiers into battle." Israel should be to ready to take dangerous steps or to pay a painful price to return Gilad, because releasing him is of the highest priority, he said. But the details of his release are best dealt with away from the camera, he added. Although Israel has not ceded to Hamas's demands, last week it released 198 Fatah prisoners at the request of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. On Sunday, during his meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Abbas asked that additional prisoners be released. The Schalit family issued a sharp response to the media, a copy of which was also sent to Olmert, in which it said it opposed the release of any prisoners unless it was part of a swap for Gilad. "As part of a number of gestures [to Abbas], Israel has released 1,000 prisoners since Gilad was captured more than two years ago," the Schalit family said in a statement. In the interim, Hamas has increased its demands, but "these gestures have not advanced Gilad's release by even one millimeter," the family said. Their words were echoed Sunday by Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who is running for the party's leadership in the upcoming primary. These gestures, he said, have neither strengthened Abbas or secured Gilad's release. "I am against gestures without any results in return," said Mofaz, who was the only minister to oppose releasing the prisoners when it came to a vote by a ministerial committee last week. Likud party leader Binyamin Netanyahu said that such gestures only prove to the Palestinians that the Kadima government is weak.