Israeli officials: 'Mashaal may not deliver Schalit'
Feud between Hamas and Durmush clan in southern Gaza could scuttle swap.
By HERB KEINON, YAAKOV KATZ, JPOST.COM STAFF
There is no guarantee that the Durmush clan in the southern Gaza Strip, believed to be one of the groups holding kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, will free him even if the Egyptians succeed in brokering a swap for Palestinian security prisoners, government officials in Jerusalem said Tuesday.
The Durmushes used to be close to Hamas but recently have been feuding with them. The sources said there was no certainty the clan would obey Damascus-based Hamas head Khaled Mashaal if he told them to release Schalit.
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"We don't know whether in the final analysis they will deliver the goods," one diplomatic source said. "In the best-case scenario they would listen to Mashaal, but there are doubts."
Senior defense officials echoed this concern.
Schalit is believed to be held by three different groups: Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees and the Islamic Army, headed by Mumtaz Durmush, the clan's chief.
"This is a real concern," a senior defense official told The Jerusalem Post. "If the family is holding him in southern Gaza, then there is a chance that they will not comply with a deal reached between Hamas and Israel."
Durmush was behind the abduction of two Fox News workers in Gaza in August. They were released - after two weeks - when Hamas agreed to pay Durmush $1 million.
However, according to one official, the Durmush clan would most likely give in and agree to release Schalit under pressure from Mashaal.
"They will not be able to withstand the pressure from Mashaal," the official said. "If Mashaal wants Schalit released, then even Durmush will have to agree."
But not everyone concurs, with sources in Jerusalem saying Durmush was also involved in the kidnapping of BBC journalist Alan Johnston on March 12, and that although Mashaal would like to see him released, he has been unable to arrange it.
In January, Hamas gunmen killed two members of the clan who were affiliated with Fatah. In response, members of the Durmush clan killed three Hamas men and kidnapped several more. Durmush is demanding that Hamas men involved in the incident be turned over to him.
"Durmush is a known terrorist in Gaza," a senior defense official said, adding that the clan was also involved in weapons smuggling into Gaza from Sinai. Most of the clan lives in Rafah in southern Gaza.
Meanwhile, jailed Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti's name does not appear on the list of names of Palestinian security prisoners Hamas demands Israel release in exchange for kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Schalit, the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper reported Wednesday.
The report has been neither confirmed nor denied by Israeli officials.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert held a meeting Tuesday to discuss the list the government received last week of prisoners whose release the Palestinians are demanding in exchange for Schalit. Olmert issued a statement after the meeting expressing "disappointment" at the names, and dampened anticipation that has been building in recent days that Schalit's release was imminent.
Following the meeting, attended by Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin, Mossad head Meir Dagan, Ofer Dekel, the prime minister's coordinator on the issue, and other top security officials, the Prime Minister's Office issued a statement expressing "disappointment and reservations" over the prisoners Hamas wants released.
Sources said the disappointment stemmed from the feeling Hamas seems to have that they can "get whatever they want."
"As has been made clear in recent days, Israel would like to emphasize that while there has been some progress in the negotiations, they are far from being completed," the statement read. "The various reports that appear in this context must be treated with due caution to prevent the creation of false hopes."
"Our hearts are with the Schalit family, which has been steadfast in recent months, especially in the face of recent reports on this issue, which certainly do not lessen its continued suffering," the statement continued.
A team made up of representatives from the Shin Bet, the Prime Minister's Office and the Justice Ministry is reviewing the criteria for releasing security prisoners in a swap. Issues being considered include the terrorist act committed and the amount of time the prisoner has served in jail.
One source characterized the list Israel received as having "450 murderers" and "nine others who helped them."
Israel's definition of prisoners with "blood on their hands" includes not only those who directly carried out attacks that killed or wounded people, but also those who planned the attacks. One question being discussed is whether a distinction should be made between those who actually killed people, and those who "only" wounded them.
Government sources said there were no plans at this point to release the criteria, and Olmert ordered a blackout on details of the meeting he had convened on the issue.
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