Hamas: Netanyahu’s hard line foiled Schalit deal

In letter, Hamas prisoners claim their movement was “only” demanding the release of 1,000 out of 7,000 inmates held in Israeli jails.

Gilad Schalit old 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS)
Gilad Schalit old 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Representatives of Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails on Saturday claimed that the movement had shown flexibility during the indirect negotiations with Israel to secure the release of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.
They held Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu fully responsible for the collapse of the prisoner-exchange talks and accused him of misleading Israeli public opinion.
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In a letter to Palestinian media, the Hamas prisoners said their movement was “only” demanding the release of 1,000 out of 7,000 inmates held in Israeli jails.
“Hamas was flexible more than required when it agreed to choose only 450 prisoners out of the list of 1,000, leaving the remaining 550 for Israel to pick,” the letter said.
It said that during the time of prime minister Ehud Olmert’s government, the two sides agreed on the names of 325 out of the 450 before the negotiation were halted.
“Hamas had also shown flexibility then when it agreed to the deportation of 82 prisoners to the Gaza Strip and other countries,” the Hamas representatives said, adding that the negotiations were stopped at that point.
The Hamas prisoners said in their letter that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has taken a hard-line approach during the negotiations, which were conducted through a German mediator.
Netanyahu, according to the Hamas letter, refused to release many prisoners who have spent more than 20 years in jail, and insisted on adding 76 names to the list of 82 inmates slated for deportation.
Netanyahu also refused to release Israeli Arabs in return for Schalit, the letter said.
The Hamas prisoners dismissed fears that many of those who would be released in a prisoner exchange would return to the path of terrorism.
“The information we have affirms that the prisoners who were released in previous swaps did not resort to acts that harm Israel’s security,” the letter said. “Netanyahu is using the Schalit case for political interests. He’s deceiving the Schalit family and misleading Israeli public opinion.”
According to the Almagor Terror Victims Association, which opposes a prisoner swap for Schalit, 80 percent of prisoners released in past swaps became involved in some form of terror activity. It notes that in the last decade, released prisoners were involved in 30 terror attacks.
The Prime Minister’s office on Saturday night did not respond to the letter. An Israeli official dismissed its claims.
The official said that Netanyahu through a German mediator had made a proposal to last year Hamas regarding a prisoner swap for Schalit.
“We have yet to receive a formal response from Hamas [to that proposal],” the official said.
“In the framework of that proposal Israel was prepared to make difficult and painful choices in order to secure Schalit’s release,” the official said.
Christophe Bigot, France’s ambassador to Israel, frequently mentions Schalit, who has French as well as Israeli citizenship.
He spoke Thursday from his Jaffa residence in honor of Bastille Day. He said that he wanted to see the soldier finally returned to his parents, Noam and Aviva, after five years.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has put the Schalit case at the top of his agenda and the French community has held solidarity demonstrations on Schalit’s behalf, Bigot said.
President Shimon Peres told the large crowd gathered in the ambassador’s garden that Sarkozy is a great friend of Israel and the Jewish people, and expressed heartfelt appreciation for the French president’s personal involvement in efforts to secure Schalit’s release.
Peres thanked Sarkozy for his ongoing commitment to bridge the differences between Israel and the Palestinians with the aim of reaching a peace agreement; and also for speaking with a clear voice about the threat that Iran poses not only to the region but to the world at large.
Many of the ambassador’s guests were French citizens.
He reminded them that for the first time French citizens in Israel would be able to vote for a representative in the French parliament who will represent French nationals abroad.
According to Bigot, there are around 100,000 French citizens registered with the embassy in Tel Aviv who are entitled to vote in the election scheduled for next year.

Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.