Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh confirmed Monday that the name of jailed Fatah operative Marwan Barghouti appears on the list of prisoners that the Palestinians are demanding in return for the release of kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Schalit. Haniyeh's deputy, Fatah representative Azzam al-Ahmed, claimed on Saturday that Barghouti's name was not on the list that was handed to Israel through Egyptian mediators. Fatah officials are worried that Hamas will take credit for Barghouti's release in any prisoner exchange, something that would boost the Islamic movement's popularity.
Burning Issues: Barghouti for Schalit?
Speaking to reporters in Gaza City, Haniyeh said "practical steps" had begun to conduct a prisoner exchange. He did not elaborate. He urged all Palestinian factions to refrain from making public statements about Schalit so as not to torpedo efforts to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Haniyeh said the list that was delivered to Israel consists of prisoners belonging to all Palestinian factions.
Referring to the case of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, who was kidnapped in the Gaza Strip four weeks ago, Haniyeh said: "We are continuing our efforts to release the journalist."
Asked about claims by an unknown group that Johnston had been executed, he replied: "These claims have not been confirmed because they came from an unknown group."
On Sunday, a group calling itself The Tawheed and Jihad Brigades, announced in a leaflet that Johnston had been executed because of Israel's refusal to release Palestinian prisoners. The group promised to release a video documenting the alleged execution, but did not fulfill its pledge by late Monday.
PA security sources said the new group is one of several al- Qaida-affiliated organizations that have begun operating in the Gaza Strip since 2004. They said the groups consist mostly of former Hamas members who are unhappy with their movement's "relatively moderate" policy.
"We believe that the British journalist is still alive," a Palestinian source said. "The leaflet is apparently intended to exert pressure on the Palestinian Authority to pay a ransom to the kidnappers."
Palestinian journalists are expected to demonstrate outside the offices of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza City on Tuesday to demand Johnston's release. The journalists have accused the Palestinian leadership of not doing enough to secure his release.
"For more than a day now, we have been seeking independent verification and demanding urgent clarification from the Foreign Office and the Palestinian authorities," BBC director-general Mark Thompson said at a gathering of employees Monday afternoon. "But right now, the report is simply rumor."
"We continue to work extremely closely with the Palestinian Authority, and we are urgently seeking further information from them and a number of other sources on these reports," Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said.
Johnston's parents said they were going through "a desperately worrying time."
"We make a heartfelt appeal to anybody who may have knowledge of Alan's situation and well-being to contact the authorities in Gaza," they said in a statement. "Our son has lived and worked amongst the people of Gaza for the last three years to bring their story to the outside world, and we ask every one of them to help end this ordeal."
In another development, unidentified gunmen blew up a vehicle belonging to former PA foreign minister Mahmoud Zahar of Hamas in Gaza City. No one was hurt, but the car was destroyed. Hamas condemned the attack and vowed to severely punish the perpetrators.
Hafez Barghouti, editor of the PA-funded daily Al-Hayat Al- Jadeeda, on Monday called on the PA to launch a war against lawlessness and anarchy.
"We are not calling for civil war," he said. "But we want a war on anarchy and lawlessness. We want our children to play outside without fear that they may be hit by a stray bullet, and we want our sons to go to school without risking their lives."
AP contributed to this report.