Mashaal 248.88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Palestinians in Gaza erected a protest tent in front of the Ministry for Prisoner Affairs in Gaza on Sunday, demanding that kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit not be set free before their relatives held in Israeli jails are also released.
They were sitting next to signs in Hebrew and a life-size effigy of Schalit.
"Schalit will not be freed unless all our prisoners are released," one sign said. Another sign threatened "If our prisoners are not released, Schalit will not be the only one."
Earlier Sunday, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal accused Israel of tricking his group and the Egyptians in recent negotiations.
"We want to free [captured IDF soldier Gilad] Schalit but [Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert just doesn't want to free our prisoners," he told La Repubblica in an interview.
"The conditions for an agreement have been known for three years, and the Egyptians know them, too," Mashaal told the Italian newspaper. "They are the release of 1,000 Palestinians in two stages."
"Olmert has now shuffled the cards," he said in the interview. "Out of the 450 first-stage prisoners, he doesn't want to free all of them. So the struggle goes on, but all the while, we are prepared to free Schalit "
Nevertheless, the Hamas leader said that the organization had additional demands.
"The fight is not over. It is continuing over the border-crossings and the blockade," he said. "But Israel is constantly changing conditions. Lately, is has gone back on agreements and added new demands, tricking the Egyptians, too."
He claimed that the group had been forced to deal with "a kind of bluff" with regards to Schalit.
"Olmert is attempting to frighten us about [Prime Minister-designate Binyamin] Netanyahu and about tougher negotiations with an extreme right-wing government," he explained. "But it doesn't matter to us. He is the one under pressure to bring some success without paying the price. We understand that it is all an act."
Concerning the option of a future settlement with Israel, Mashaal said that "the occupation doesn't allow any options."
"Every day, we see new houses destroyed, land confiscated, construction of outposts and the security fence, the Gaza blockade, the Judaization of Jerusalem, killings and arrests," he said. "How can Israel expect peace? We are determined to continue the double path of politics and resistance."
In answer to question regarding Hamas's refusal to recognize Israel, Mashaal responded: "I'll answer with a question: Who is in danger of destruction today, Israel or the Palestinians? We are the ones being attacked by bombs and weapons containing phosphorus. And anyway, what is the meaning of recognizing Israel? It is only asked of us and not others. Not of Syria, who Americans and Israel are speaking to."
The Hamas leader went on to say that he drew encouragement for the new US overtures and that US President Barack Obama was using a "new language" when it came to the Middle East.
He said that a change in the US approach toward Hamas was only matter of time.
In conclusion, Mashaal was asked about the 1997 assassination attempt carried out by the Mossad under orders from Netanyahu during the latter's last term as prime minister.
"He tried, and maybe he'll try again," he responded. "I expect to be a martyr at any moment. How and when, only God will decide."