'Barghouti refuses to be deported if released'

Barghouti refuses to be

Jailed Fatah operative Marwan Barghouti has rejected an offer to be deported to an Arab country if he's released in a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas for captive soldier Gilad Schalit, his wife and friends said on Wednesday. "Marwan is going nowhere; he wants to return to his home and family in Palestine," said his wife, Fadwa Barghouti. She said that neither she nor her husband would agree to his deportation. His friends in Ramallah said they were unaware of any Israeli offer to deport Barghouti, along with dozens of prisoners whom Hamas was demanding in return for Schalit's release. The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper on Wednesday quoted Palestinian sources as saying that Israel had expressed willingness to include Barghouti in a prisoner swap on condition that he would be deported. The sources noted that Israel had so far refused to include Barghouti in a prisoner swap with Hamas. Issa Qaraqi, the Palestinian Authority minister for prisoners' affairs, who met recently with Barghouti, said that the top Fatah operative was opposed to the idea of living in exile. Qaraqi said Israel was insisting on the deportation of Barghouti and 11 other prominent prisoners, including Ahmad Sa'adat, secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. A Fatah official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post that the PA leadership was pressing Israel to release Barghouti before an agreement was reached with Hamas. "It will look very bad for Fatah and the Palestinian Authority if Hamas manages to release Marwan [Barghouti]," the official said. "We hope that the Israeli government won't make such a mistake, because it would strengthen Hamas." Israeli officials denied reports that the government might free Barghouti. "There are no plans to release Marwan Barghouti," said Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday. "He is the king of murderers and won't be freed." Fathi Sabah, a political analyst with close ties to Hamas, said he believed the prisoner exchange agreement would be concluded "very soon." "I don't think it's going to last for a long time; I think we are very close to a deal," he said. Sabah said that Hamas was continuing to insist on the release of 20 Israeli Arab inmates, 44 prisoners from east Jerusalem and one from the Golan who were all arrested before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Sabah said the first phase of the German-brokered agreement called for the release of 450 prisoners, most of whom had been arrested before the signing of the Oslo Accords. He said that Israel has so far agreed to release 300 out of the 450 prisoners and was insisting that 120 of them be deported to Arab countries. "Hamas is now seeking to reduce the number of prisoners on the deportation list," he added. The analyst said that Israel's readiness to pay a heavy price for one of its soldiers "reflected its total and humiliating failure in finding out where Schalit was being held." Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.