Hamas firm on call for prisoner swap

Group spokesman abroad warns serious consequences if Israel kills Mashaal.

ramon press conf 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
ramon press conf 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The IDF's incursion into Gaza will not change Hamas's demand for Israel to release Palestinian detainees in exchange for captured soldier Gilad Shalit, Hamas' representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, said Wednesday. And if Israelis do not negotiate a prisoner swap, Palestinian militants will conclude that they should capture more Israeli soldiers or "kill soldiers even if they have the opportunity to capture them," Hamdan told The Associated Press. Hamdan, who is close to the exiled leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, spoke hours after Israeli jets blasted a Gaza power station, knocking out electricity in most of the territory, and Israeli tanks and troops took up positions near the town of Rafah. Israel said the offensive, its first offensive in Gaza since it withdrew from the coastal strip in September, was designed to force the release of Cpl. Shalit, whom Hamas-linked terrorists kidnapped Sunday during a raid on an IDF post near the Gaza border. Hamdan said the incursion "cannot be justified." He also warned of serious consequences if Israel carried out a threat to kill Mashaal, the Hamas political leader who lives in Damascus, Syria. Israel believes Mashaal ordered the Sunday raid, and Justice Minister Haim Ramon said earlier Wednesday Mashaal is a target for assassination. Hamdan repeated Hamas denials that Mashaal ordered the attack, and said Israel should think twice about assassinating him. "They have to think thoroughly about the consequences (of killing Mashaal), which could be bigger than they imagine," Hamdan said. Hamdan said Hamas is sticking to its demand for swapping Shalit for Palestinian detainees. Israel is said to hold about 8,000 Palestinians in its prisons. "Our position does not change: We have said there is a national interest to achieve through discussing a mechanism to win the release of prisoners in the occupation jails in return for the soldier," he said. If Israel does not negotiate, the militants will take it as a message "that they should capture more soldiers so that the Israelis will speak to them ... the message for the resistance is to kill soldiers, even if they have the opportunity to capture them," Hamdan said.