Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is trying to stop a prisoner exchange agreement between Israel and Hamas, Egyptian sources claimed on Saturday.
The sources, quoted by the Qatari-affiliated media outlet Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, accused Abbas of “playing a destructive role” in obstructing the completion of the deal brokered by Egypt.
According to the unnamed sources, Abbas is seeking to hinder Egypt’s mediation efforts because he opposes the inclusion in the list of jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who Hamas wants released from an Israeli prison.
Abbas believes that Hamas’s decision to include Barghouti and other prominent inmates “aims primarily to embarrass him and to show him as being negligent on the prisoners’ issue and efforts to release them,” the sources added. “Abbas’s fears have increased because he realizes that Barghouti is a strong rival.”
A senior Palestinian official in Ramallah denied the report, dubbing it “lies spread by the enemies of the Palestinians.”
Barghouti, 62, was arrested by the IDF in 2002 because of his role in terrorism activities during the Second Intifada.
In 2004, he was convicted of five accounts of murder and one account of attempted murder. He was sentenced to five cumulative life sentences and an additional 40 years.
A recent public opinion poll showed many Palestinians continue to regard Barghouti as their preferred candidate for PA president.
According to the poll, Barghouti is more popular than Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and other potential candidates, including PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, ousted Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan, and former PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Earlier this year, Barghouti openly challenged the 85-year-old Abbas by joining forces with Nasser al-Qidwah, a veteran Fatah official and critic of the president, ahead of the parliamentary elections, which were supposed to take place on May 22.
Qidwah, the nephew of former PLO leader Yasser Arafat, was expelled from Fatah earlier this year because he decided to run on a separate list in the parliamentary election.
Abbas called off the election on the pretext that Israel had refused to allow the PA to hold the vote in Jerusalem.
The Egyptian sources claimed that Abbas “pressured more than one party, including Egypt, to reach agreement on some internal arrangements and matters related to him remaining in his position at the head of the Palestinian Authority for an indefinite period” before launching negotiations to reach a prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and Israel.
Recently, Barghouti’s wife, Fadwa, met Haniyeh in Cairo – a move seen by some Palestinian political activists as a sign of an impending prisoner swap deal.
The Hamas leader reportedly assured her that her husband would be at the top of the list of prisoners Hamas wants released from Israeli prison. “The issue of the prisoners is not partisan,” Haniyeh was quoted as saying.
In the past, Fadwa Barghouti had accused the PA leadership of failing to make an effort to secure the release of her husband.
Hamas officials have stated that in addition to Barghouti, they are also demanding the release of Ahmad Sa’dat, secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), who is serving a 30-year prison sentence for his role in the assassination of former Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi in 2001.
In a related development, senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya said on Friday that his group was determined to achieve a new prisoner exchange deal with Israel.
“Hamas is ready for a deal if the occupation meets its demands,” Hayya told the Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa TV station. “The prisoners of the occupation will not see the light until our prisoners see freedom.”
Hamas is holding the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were killed during the 2014 Israel-Hamas war, as well as Israeli civilians Avera Mangistu and Hisham al-Sayyed, who crossed into the Gaza Strip on their own in 2014 and 2015 respectively.