PMO: Schalit deal broke down at the last minute

Israel only approved 50 prisoners from list of 350; Noam Schalit slams "failure" of gov't.

schalit guest book 298.8 (photo credit: Channel 2)
schalit guest book 298.8
(photo credit: Channel 2)
Four months ago, Israel and Hamas were so close to a deal that the captors of Cpl. Gilad Schalit were told to prepare to release him, senior Hamas official Osama al-Mizayni told Channel 2 on Tuesday. He spoke on the same day that Schalit's family and friends gathered in Rabin Square to celebrate the young soldier's 21st birthday, his second one in captivity. Mizayni blamed the breakdown of the deal on Israel. "We reached a deal four months ago to return him to his parents ... but the [Israeli] government cares neither about its people nor its soldiers," Mizayni said. Speaking to reporters in Rabin Square, Schalit's father, Noam, blamed both Israel and Hamas for the fact that his son was not yet home some 14 months after he was kidnapped by Hamas while serving on the Gaza border. For Noam and his family, this has been 429 days of anguish. "After two birthdays and two years of endless meetings, discussions and situation assessments, we see a clear failure of the establishment," he told reporters at the square. Schalit criticized both the negotiating team and the "actions of the prime minister." He then turned to the Hamas leadership in Gaza and Damascus, saying, "You have also failed, after making promises to the families of your prisoners." Upon learning of the Channel 2 report, Schalit said it was terrible that the media had been informed about Gilad's near-release before he was. The Prime Minister's Office said the information on Channel 2 had been released four months ago. "[Channel 2] is trying to put this thing out there as a new report. There is nothing new here," said a spokeswoman. She said that three or four months ago, Hamas and Israel had whittled down a list of 1,400 prisoners to 350. Many of the prisoners on it had been charged with serious offenses such as murder. Israel only approved the release of 40 names on the list, she said. Channel 1 reported that among them was the terrorist responsible for the Pessah 2002 suicide bombing of the Park Hotel in Netanya and the 2001 attack on the Dolphinarium night club in Tel Aviv. The spokeswoman said she could not confirm the report. She said an agreement had then been reached that Hamas, with Egypt's help, would hand Israel a list of 1,000 names, out of which it would choose 350. "Until today, there has been no such list," she said. Earlier, Schalit told Israel Radio that he wanted to publish a birthday message to his son in a Hamas-controlled Palestinian newspaper, but his request was denied. On Channel 2, Mizayni also expressed his displeasure with Ahmad Yusef, an aid to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, for suggesting on Monday that video footage of Schalit could be released in exchange for freeing Palestinian women and minors in Israeli jails. Mizayni also said that Schalit's health had deteriorated and he was "not in good condition." His words contradicted an earlier claim by Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal that Schalit was in good condition. He added that Hamas was involved in negotiations with Israel for a prisoner swap.