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(photo credit: AP [file])
The government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu still hasn't offered anything in return for the release of kidnapped IDF soldier St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip said on Sunday.
Osama Mazini, who is in charge of the "Schalit portfolio" on behalf of Hamas, said the negotiations on a prisoner exchange were stopped during the administration of former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
All what's being published in the media these days about an imminent prisoner exchange is nothing but "test balloons," Mazini said.
He said Israel was behind the recent wave of rumors because many Israelis feel frustrated that their powerful army has been unable to secure the release of one of its soldiers who has been held for three years.
"This tiny area has been the target of wars and blockades," Mazini noted, referring to the Gaza Strip. "They [Israel] know the area by the inch, yet they haven't been able to do anything to find the soldier. Even the Israeli army is very frustrated and their soldiers are less motivated."
The Hamas official said that despite the rumors, there was no "real talk" between Israel and Hamas over the release of Schalit.
"At some stages, there were real and serious negotiations," he said. "Lately, Israel claimed that Hamas had changed the list of prisoners whom it was demanding in return for Schalit, but that's not true. It's also not true that there are serious negotiations now."
He said Hamas was still demanding the release of 1,000 Palestinians in return for Schalit. The security prisoners would be freed in two phases: the first 450 would be released as soon as Schalit is freed; two months later, Israel would release another 550 inmates.
Mazini said the main reason why the deal was never signed was Israel's refusal to release prisoners "with blood on their hands."
He claimed that just before February's elections in Israel, the Olmert government informed Hamas through the Egyptians that it had agreed to release only 200 to 325 out of the 450 prisoners who had been involved in murder. Hamas, he said, remains opposed to the Israeli position.
Hamas also turned down Israel's proposal to deport some of the released prisoners to Arab countries, Mazini said.
Mazini also claimed that it took Israel one year to agree to begin negotiations with Hamas over the case of Schalit.
"For an entire year after the soldier was taken prisoner, the Israelis refused to negotiate," he said. "They were demanding that the soldier be released unconditionally and immediately."
He said that Israel asked for Egyptian mediation only after it failed to release the soldier through military means. He confirmed media reports to the effect that Abu Muhammad Ja'bari, commander of Hamas's armed wing, Izzadin Kassam, had visited Cairo earlier this year for talks on Schalit. Ja'bari is said to be one of the few Hamas men who know where Schalit is being held.
Mazini said that former US president Jimmy Carter recently delivered to Hamas representatives a letter from Schalit's family. "Hamas has received the letter," he said. "If the solider is alive, he will get the letter. But if he's not alive, he won't receive it. After the last war [Operation Cast Lead], there's no knowing if Schalit is alive or dead."