Hamas calls off talks on Schalit

Spokesman says if negotiations resume, group will up its demands to Israel.

Schalit 248.88 (photo credit: Channel 10 [file])
Schalit 248.88
(photo credit: Channel 10 [file])
Hamas announced on Wednesday it is suspending talks over the release of St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit following Israel's refusal to release all the prisoners the movement is demanding. Ayman Taha, a Hamas spokesman, said that when the negotiations are resumed, his movement would up its demands, adding more names to the list of prisoners. He warned that unless Israel accepted all of Hamas's conditions, the fate of Schalit would be similar to that of IAF navigator Ron Arad, who was captured in Lebanon in 1986 and whose whereabouts are unknown since 1988. Meanwhile, Palestinians across the political spectrum were unanimous in blaming Israel for the failure of the prisoner exchange talks with Hamas. Hamas legislator Salah Bardaweel said his movement presented Egyptian mediators with a list of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners about 30 months ago. "Since then, we have not changed the list or added new demands," he said. "Our demand remains the same as 30 months ago." Hamas's list consisted of 450 security prisoners who are serving lengthy sentences and who should be released in the first phase of a prisoner exchange agreement, Bardaweel said. The second phase called for the release of all females and minors, as well as Hamas legislators and ministers who were arrested in the West Bank shortly after Schalit's abduction in June 2006. Accusing Israel of "procrastination," the Hamas representative scoffed at Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's threats to step up the pressure on the Islamist movement and its prisoners being held by Israel. "We are not afraid of these threats," he said. "Nor will they force us to change our demands or give up one name on our list." Israel's insistence on deporting dozens of prisoners to the Gaza Strip and some Arab countries was one of the main reasons behind the current stalemate, Bardaweel said. He also called on Egypt to make public its stance regarding the failure of the negotiations and to name the responsible party. A spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, one of the groups that had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of Schalit, also blamed Israel for the deadlock. Abu Mujahed, who was summoned to Cairo last week to participate in the indirect prisoner exchange negotiations with Israel, said the Olmert government "apparently does not have the power to sign an important deal." Olmert backtracked at the last minute on an agreement that was reached in Cairo earlier this week, he said. "Olmert and his failed government were unable to make a decision on the agreement that was reached in Egypt," he said. Abu Mujahed said his group was determined to do its utmost to secure the release of all the Palestinians held in Israeli jails. Hani Habib, a political analyst affiliated with the Palestinian Authority, accused the Olmert government of "deceiving" the Israeli public by creating a sense of optimism regarding the prospects of releasing Schalit. Olmert chose to foil the talks because he did not want to bear the political consequences of a prisoner exchange agreement with Hamas, Habib said. Had the deal been concluded, it would have been the first time that Israel "succumbed" to the demands of a Palestinian group from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and not from Lebanon or Syria, he said. Omar al-Ghul, a writer and an adviser to PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, said Olmert did not sign the deal with Hamas because he's already thinking of making a comeback in the next Israeli election. He predicted that the case of Schalit would now be shelved unless Hamas softened its position.