Vilna'i backs Barghouti-Schalit swap

Deputy defense minister says Tanzim leader will probably appear on list of prisoners to be released.

vilnai 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
vilnai 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i expressed support for freeing jailed Fatah Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti in exchange for Cpl. Gilad Schalit, in a weekend interview with Israel Radio. Barghouti was sentenced in 2004 to five life sentences for the murders of four Israelis and a Greek monk. Vilna'i said he could not look people in the eye and say "we're giving up on Gilad Schalit." Freeing prisoners with "blood on their hands," he said, was not new to Israel, as this had already been done in past deals to bring about the release of captured Israeli soldiers. An official in the Prime Minister's Office who preferred to remain anonymous said Vilna'i's was merely expressing his personal opinion. Other senior officials said Israel was not considering releasing Barghouti. A ministerial committee chaired by Deputy Premier Haim Ramon is currently reviewing the criteria for releasing Palestinian security detainees, and the full cabinet is expected to convene shortly to endorse changes adopted by the committee. Officials said that under the current criteria there was little chance of completing a prisoner swap involving Schalit. Israel currently refuses to release any Palestinian prisoner who was directly involved in attacks in which there were Israeli fatalities. In addition to Barghouti, Schalit's captors are reportedly seeking the release of other senior terrorist leaders held by Israel. On Friday, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal told a Damascus rally marking Hamas's 20th anniversary that without the release of Barghouti and other Palestinian leaders, Schalit would not be freed. In September, National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer expressed support for freeing Barghouti in return for Schalit. Sources close to Defense Minister Ehud Barak said at the time that Ben-Eliezer was not expressing Barak's opinion.