Palestinians have paid a heavy price for the capture of IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit and there is no need to continue holding him in captivity, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday, adding that it was possible to reach a deal to secure the soldier's release with the help of Egyptian mediation. During a meeting with representatives of an Arab-Israeli supervisory committee in Ramallah, the PA chairman went on to say that Monday's planned meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert must have "substance and not merely protocol." Abbas also said he expected additional goodwill gestures from Olmert following the release of some 250 Fatah prisoners in July. He told committee members who were attempting to bridge the gap between Hamas and Fatah that he would not talk to the Islamist group before the situation in the Gaza Strip returned to how it was prior to the Hamas takeover.
Palestinian Affairs: The Palestinian Winograd
Earlier Sunday, a senior Palestinian security official said that more than 300 West Bank gunmen had so far surrendered their weapons as part of an amnesty deal with Israel.
The gunmen included in the deal are members of the Fatah-affiliated Aksa Martyrs Brigades. Al Aksa was founded at the outbreak of the second Palestinian "Intifada" in 2000, and its members carried out dozens of shooting and suicide attacks against the IDF and Israeli civilians.
After the fall of Gaza to Hamas in June, Abbas said he would no longer permit militias to operate in the West Bank, a Fatah stronghold. Hamas, which calls for the destruction of Israel and opposes peace talks, said more than 400 of its activists in the West Bank had been detained since June.
At the same time, the IDF offered amnesty to gunmen with ties to Fatah, which recognizes Israel and advocates the creation of a Palestinian state alongside it.
The senior Palestinian security official said that all but three Al Aksa members had surrendered their weapons and sworn off violence, as part of the arrangement. He said 25 members of the violent Islamic Jihad group in Jenin also asked for amnesty, but that leaders of the group opposed the idea.
In other developments, 950 Palestinians were returning to Gaza on Sunday, after being stranded in Egypt since June. The travelers were among some 6,000 Palestinians trapped in Egypt by a closure of the Gaza-Egypt border, fallout from the Hamas-Fatah fighting that led to the Hamas takeover of Gaza.