Al-Masri says PA president stepped in to prevent prisoner swap deal which would have freed soldier.
By KHALED ABU TOAMEHPublished: AUGUST 22, 2009 19:47Advertisement
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas personally intervened to foil a prisoner deal between Hamas and Israel last June, a prominent Hamas official said on Saturday.
"We were very close to striking a deal that would have resulted in the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit," said Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas legislator and spokesman.
"But Abbas personally intervened to prevent the prisoner exchange because he was opposed to the release of Hamas legislators and officials from Israeli prison."
Masri said Abbas was afraid that the release of the Hamas figures would undermine his authority and revive the debate about his legitimacy as president of the PA, particularly since his term in office expired at the beginning of this year.
The Hamas official said that the US also intervened to thwart an imminent prisoner exchange agreement out of fear that such a move would boost the Islamist movement's standing among Palestinians.
He added that the deal had been reached with the help of Egypt, which has been mediating between Hamas and Israel for the past three years.
Masri did not provide details about the prisoner swap that was supposed to take place last June.
However, he reiterated Hamas's commitment to pursuing efforts to reach a deal that would see the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in return for Schalit.
PA officials have in the past expressed fear that a prisoner exchange would bolster Hamas's popularity among Palestinians.
The officials appealed to Israel to release many leading prisoners such as Fatah operative Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Sadat, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, as a "goodwill gesture" to Abbas and not in the context of a deal with Hamas.
A PA official in Ramallah denied Masri's allegations and said Abbas was "continuing his efforts to secure the release of all Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails."
The Israeli government had no comment on the report.
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