'Prisoners not opposed to deportation'

Hamas source to 'Post': Inmates call on leadership to reconsider Israeli demand in Schalit deal.

Hamas abu marzouk 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas abu marzouk 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails said they are not completely opposed to deportation in the context of a prisoner exchange agreement with Israel. Sources close to Hamas disclosed that representatives of the movement's prisoners met over the weekend in jail to discuss the latest developments. "The prisoners have called on the Hamas leadership to reconsider its opposition to Israel's demand that some of the released inmates be deported," the sources told The Jerusalem Post. They added that a message from the Hamas prisoners was relayed to the movement's leaders in the Gaza Strip through their lawyers and relatives who visited them in the past few days. "The prisoners made it clear that they are not worried about the deportation of a small number of their colleagues because they will always find a way to return to their homes," a source said. In their message, the prisoners also called on Hamas not to make any concessions regarding the list of prisoners that it was demanding in return for Schalit. "You must stick by your demands even if that means holding Schalit for another 1,000 years," the message read. Sources in Gaza say that some families would also want to see their relatives released, even if that means that some of them would be deported to the Gaza Strip or Arab countries. This was the first time that the Hamas prisoners have made public their position regarding a possible prisoner swap, and it appears to be more flexible than that of the Hamas leadership. Talks broke down in part over Israeli insistence that some of the released prisoners be deported rather than sent back to their homes. Hamas legislator Mushir al-Masri reiterated on Sunday his movement's refusal to soften its position regarding deportation, saying there would never be a deal unless Israel accepts all the demands set by Schalit's captors. He added his movement was not afraid of a new right-wing government in Israel headed by Binyamin Netanyahu. In an interview with the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Musa Abu Marzouk, deputy chairman of the Syrian-based Hamas political bureau, claimed that Israel has sought the assistance of British, German, Russian and French mediators to resolve the Schalit case. He said that Hamas has rejected Israel's attempt to keep the Egyptians away from the talks over Schalit's release. Abu Marzouk revealed that the list of prisoners that Hamas presented to Israel included top Fatah operative Marwan Barghouti. He said that Israel refused to include Barghouti in a prisoner exchange. Earlier Sunday, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal accused Israel of tricking his group and the Egyptians in recent negotiations. "We want to free Schalit but Olmert just doesn't want to free our prisoners," he told La Republica in an interview. "The conditions for an agreement have been known for three years, and the Egyptians know them, too," Mashaal said. "They are the release of 1,000 Palestinians in two stages. "Olmert has now shuffled the cards. Out of the 450 first-stage prisoners, he doesn't want to free all of them. So the struggle goes on, but all the while, we are prepared to free Schalit." Israeli government sources noted with some satisfaction Sunday that it appears Hamas is coming under public pressure to make a deal with Israel, because it realizes that more than 300 Palestinian prisoners could have been released had it not toughened its stance last week. Hamas has made comments about still making a deal for Schalit because of this pressure, one source added. "They have to justify to their own people why these 300 people, who could be released, are still in jail," the source said. The issue of prisoner releases has moved onto the street in Gaza, where Palestinians erected a protest tent in front of the Ministry for Prisoner Affairs on Sunday, demanding that Schalit not be set free before their relatives in Israeli jails are also released. They sat next to signs in Hebrew and a life-size effigy of Schalit. "Schalit will not be freed unless all our prisoners are released," one sign said. Another sign threatened "If our prisoners are not released, Schalit will not be the only one." Osama al-Mazini, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, said on Sunday that his movement "did not close the door to the possibility of resuming negotiations" with Israel over Schalit's release. He spoke almost a week after Dekel and Diskin returned from talks in Cairo without a deal. Those negotiations, Mazini said, "did not fail. Rather, it was the first round of talks that ended in failure. This does not mean that we have reached the end. The ball is now in the Israeli court." Mazini said that Hamas's demands remain fixed and have not changed over the 1,000 days since Schalit was captured. Mazini, who has served as Hamas's spokesman on the Schalit issue, expressed confidence that the negotiations with Israel would be resumed in the near future. Amid reports that Israeli officials would return to Egypt this week to resume negotiations on a prisoner release deal for kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said in internal meetings over the last few days that he would continue efforts to bring Schalit home until his last day in office. On Saturday Schalit's parents ended their two-week vigil in front of the prime minister's Jerusalem residence, discouraged by the government's failure to return their son. No date was given as to when Israeli officials, most likely the prime minister's envoy Ofer Dekel and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin, would return to Cairo for another round of talks. Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report