Hamas has not rejected the Israeli counter-offer on a prisoner exchange deal to free captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, but would like to continue negotiations, Al-Jazeera quoted senior Hamas leader Izzat Rishek as saying Wednesday.
Rishek denied a Tuesday report by the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya network that claimed that the movement's leadership has rejected the latest offer presented by a German mediator.
Although he refused to give details on the Israeli proposal, Rishek said, "Hamas will continue with contacts via the German mediator, in the hope that we can come to a deal for the release of Palestinian prisoners from all factions."
He added that consultations with senior Hamas leaders in Damascus, including Khaled Mashaal and Mahmoud Zahar, had been ongoing since Monday night.
In a conflicting report, the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat reported that Hamas had rejected the proposal. A Hamas source quoted in the report said that Israel's refusal to free 13 specific prisoners was holding up a deal.
Among these 13 prisoners, according to Al-Hayat are:
Fatah-Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, who is responsible for various terrorist attacks including the bombing of a Tel Aviv supermarket and a wedding hall in the city of Hadera, and targeting a car near Ramallah, killing a child and a rabbi;
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine head Ahmed Sa'adat, who was responsible for the assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi;
Ibrahim Hamad, who shot and killed a pregnant mother and her four daughters in 2004;
Hamas commander Jamal Abu al-Hija, who is sentenced to nine life terms for his role in a number of terrorist attacks, including a 2000 Hadera car bombing that killed two people;
Hassan Salama, who was given 38 life sentences in prison in 1998, and is responsible for the murder of dozens of Israelis in terrorist attacks, including two bus bombings in Jerusalem in 1996 in which 44 people were killed;
Abdullah Barghouti, who is serving 67 consecutive life terms, having pleaded guilty to manufacturing bombs that murdered 66 people, and wounded more than 500;
Senior Hamas leader Abbas Sayed, who orchestrated the 2001 bombing of the Park Hotel in Netanya which killed 30;
Amneh Muna, a female prisoner from Fatah who is serving a life sentence for her role in the abduction and murder of 16-year-old Ofir Rahum at the beginning of the second intifada;
Ahlam Tamimi, a female prisoner who led the suicide bomber who blew up at the Jerusalem's Sbarro restaurant in which 15 Israelis were killed, August 2001 and;
Qahera al-Sa'di, a female prisoner who transported the suicide bomber in a 2002 attack on Jerusalem's King George Street.
Another reason for Hamas's refusal to accept the proposal, according to Al-Hayat, was Israel's request to increase the number of prisoners to be expelled from Israel upon release to 200. According to the Hamas source, Israel agreed that the prisoners be expelled to the Gaza Strip.
"In its previous answer, Israel agreed that 130 Palestinian prisoners be expelled as part of the deal, but now it's demanding 200," the source was quoted as saying. "The meaning of Israel's answer is that the negotiations will take a long time."
In related news, the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported that during their meeting in Cairo on Tuesday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu asked Mubarak to convince Arab League states to normalize their relations with Israel "in exchange for Israel's agreement to free a thousand Palestinian prisoners."
Mubarak reportedly responded by saying that first a Palestinian state must be established. "Only after that can we talk about negotiations," the Egyptian president was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, Fox News on Wednesday quoted a senior Egyptian official as saying, "Hamas won't compromise, and it won't settle for less than 100% of what it's demanding." The source assessed that if an agreement is not reached in the next two weeks, it will be a long time until a new window of opportunity opens.
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