Israel's refusal to accept an Egyptian initiative for a prisoner exchange with the Palestinians is behind the delay in the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit, a spokesman for the captors claimed Tuesday. The Egyptian initiative was very close to the demands of the Palestinian groups that are holding Shalit, said the spokesman, Abu Mujahed. In an interview with the Bethlehem-based Maan News Agency, Abu Mujahed revealed that the captors were demanding the release of some 1,000 Arab and Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, as well as all female and minor inmates.
"Our demands are just and humane," he said. "We want the release of 1,000 Palestinian and Arab prisoners, in addition to all the minors and women. Our position will not change and Israel will eventually succumb to our demands because procrastination and arrogance will not bring the soldier back home."
Abu Mujahed said Shalit was in good condition and fine health. "He has not been harmed at all," he said. "He is being treated in accordance with Islamic values regulating the treatment of prisoners of war. The soldier has not been harassed or tortured as Israel does with our prisoners."
Addressing Shalit's family, Abu Mujahed said: "Your government does not want your son to return home. Had the government accepted the Egyptian offer, Gilad would have been at home by now."
Abu Mujahed, who described himself as the official spokesman of the Popular Resistance Committee, one of the groups that is holding Shalit, said the captors had no problem keeping Shalit in the Gaza Strip for a long period of time. "We have managed to keep the soldier in captivity for six months and we have no problem keeping him for years," he added. "Our goal is to put pressure on the Israeli government to release our prisoners."
Meanwhile, Hamas and Fatah officials continued to trade accusations about the responsibility for the latest cycle of violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Several members of the two groups were abducted during the day, but were released unharmed within hours.
Sameeh al-Madhoun, one of the commanders of Fatah's armed wing, the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, escaped an assassination attempt on his life Tuesday when unidentified gunmen fired at him in the northern Gaza Strip. Madhoun accused Hamas of standing behind the attempt and vowed to seek revenge.
In a similar incident, Hamas gunmen fired several shots at the home of Iskandar Hawihi, head of the counter-intelligence unit in the Palestinian Authority's Preventative Security Force. No one was hurt in the attack. At least seven members of the same force have been killed in clashes with Hamas militiamen in the past few weeks.
Fatah representative Abdel Hakim Awad dismissed allegations by Hamas that his party was trying to stage a coup against the Hamas-led government. "As far as Hamas is concerned, anyone who criticizes its policy is an infidel, a traitor, a collaborator with Israel and the US, and a conspirator," he said. "The Hamas leaders are at a loss and they don't know what to do."
Awad also dismissed charges that Fatah was behind a spate of attacks on Hamas figures and businesses in the West Bank. "Fatah was only defending itself," he explained. "We have been forced to confront the crimes of Hamas's so-called Executive Force, which is in fact a killing force. This is an illegal force that must be dismantled immediately."
PA security sources announced that 23 Hamas members were arrested in the West Bank over the past 24 hours on suspicion of planning a series of attacks on Fatah leaders and public institutions. The sources said some of the suspects were behind Monday's shooting attack on the offices of former PA Finance Minister Salam Fayyad in Al-Bireh. The suspects, the sources added, were also responsible for torching more than 20 shops in Ramallah late Sunday night. The shops are all owned by Hamas supporters and officials. Local residents have blamed Fatah gunmen for the attacks.
The security sources, however, insisted that the Hamas suspects were behind the attacks, saying their goal was to defame Fatah and incite the people against the party. "They received their instructions from Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip," said one source, adding, "We found fire-bombs and other weapons in their possession."