Schalit protesters 248.88.
(photo credit: )
Hamas announced on Wednesday that it has received Israel's response to its demands in exchange for the release of IDF soldier St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit.
A high-level delegation of Hamas leaders is scheduled to travel to Syria on Thursday for talks with the movement's leaders there about the Israeli response.
Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, said that the discussions in Damascus would continue for a "few days." He said that any decision taken at the meeting would be immediately relayed to the German mediator.
Zahar, like most Hamas leaders, refused to speculate on Hamas's position.
"Various leadership circles are currently studying the [Israeli] response," said a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip. "If Hamas makes a decision about the response, it will be handed over to the German mediator."
The official said that "despite Israeli intransigence, significant progress has been achieved toward reaching a prisoner exchange agreement."
The official claimed that a "breakthrough" had been achieved regarding the release of prominent prisoners such as Fatah's Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Sa'dat, secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
However, the Hamas official would neither confirm nor deny reports that his movement had agreed to the expulsion of scores of prisoners to the Gaza Strip and Arab countries.
According to reports in a number of Arab media outlets, Hamas has agreed to the deportation of dozens of prisoners slated for release in the context of a prisoner swap. Lawyers representing the prisoners have been asked by Hamas to seek their clients' approval for the deportation, the reports claimed.
A source close to Hamas said that Israel was demanding the deportation of some 120 prisoners.
The source added that Israel was still refusing to include Israeli Arabs or residents of eastern Jerusalem in a deal with Hamas.
Hamas has come under heavy pressure from Palestinians not to agree to the deportation of any prisoner.
Jamal Nazzal, a spokesman for Fatah in the West Bank, warned Hamas against accepting Israel's demand that some of the prisoners be exiled to other countries.
"Deportation would be a moral victory for the extremist ideology of Likud, which argues that Palestinians don't belong here," he said. "Fatah does not want to see any prisoner cross the border unwillingly."
The influential pan-Arab daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi on Wednesday urged Hamas not to comply with Israel's request to deport prisoners.
"Hamas would be making the biggest mistake if it accepts the principle of deportation, whether to the Gaza Strip [for West Bankers] or to Europe, because of the grave repercussions of such an act," the paper said in an editorial.
"The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah committed the same mistake when it agreed to the expulsion of those who were besieged inside the Church of Nativity in Manger Square [in Bethlehem, in 2002]. The deportees are facing many difficulties and most of them have admitted that they would prefer to sit in Israeli jails rather than remain free far from their homes and families."
The Bethlehem deportees on Wednesday appealed to Hamas to seek a solution to their plight in the frame of a prisoner exchange agreement with Israel. Thirteen Palestinians were deported to EU countries, while 26 others were sent to the Gaza Strip.
Fahmi Kan'an, a spokesman for the group, said that he and his friends received promises from the Hamas leadership that their case was being discussed with Israel.
He said that Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who met with the deportees last year, informed them their problem would be raised during the negotiations.