Hamas reportedly ups ante for Schalit

Spokesperson: Over 1,000 prisoners need to be freed; 'Post' learns Hamas 'thugs' may foil release.

schalit in uniform 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy of Gilad Schalit's family)
schalit in uniform 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy of Gilad Schalit's family)
Hamas has upped the ante for the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, and is now demanded that Israel free over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, including some with very long jail terms, all women, and all children, the London-based newspaper A-Sharq al-Awsat reported on Saturday. "The list includes over 1,000 prisoners," a spokesperson for Hamas's military wing, Izzadin Kassam, told the paper. He added that whether or not Israel approves on Sunday a set of relaxed criteria regarding which Palestinians are eligible for release did not matter. "From a fundamental point of view, we are not willing to discuss any list which the occupation presents, and it is [Israel's responsibility] to implement our list," the spokesperson said. On Thursday, a source in the Gaza Strip told the Jerusalem Post that the results of a recent election held for one of Hamas's key decision-making bodies were likely to hinder efforts to free Schalit. The secret ballot was held about 12 days ago for the Shura (Consultative) Council, which is made up of Hamas's senior political and religious leadership and is tasked with discussing all important issues. The names of the Shura Council members are kept secret, although it is believed that some of them are based in a number of Arab countries. The sources told the Post the vote resulted in a major victory for representatives of the "young guard" in Hamas, most of whom are affiliated with the movement's armed wing, Izzadin Kassam. The sources described the victory as a "coup," pointing out that the newly-elected members were far more radical than those who were ousted from the council. "The Shura Council of Hamas is now dominated by warlords, thugs and militiamen," one source said. "The new members are not as educated as their predecessors. Another source described the vote as a "turning point" in the history of the Islamist organization. "From now on, the armed wing of Hamas is expected to play a bigger role in the decision-making process, he said. "The political leadership of Hamas has definitely been weakened." Given the fact that Schalit is being held by members of Izzadin Kassam, some of whom are now represented in the Shura Council, Hamas is unlikely to soften its position in the talks on a prisoner exchange agreement. A Palestinian academic closely associated with Hamas told the Post he expected the new council members to endorse a tougher approach in the negotiations over the release of Schalit. "The new members are less patient and less experienced," he said. "These are the guys who carry the guns and control the situation on the ground." He said that one of Hamas's representatives in the negotiations over a prisoner release, Jamal Abu Hashem, lost his seat in the council election. Abu Hashem, he said, was a veteran Hamas official who had been carrying out political missions on behalf of the movement for many years. Two other veteran Hamas politicians, Ghazi Hamad and Ahmed Youssef, did not even bother to run in the election because they knew they stood no chance against the young guard representatives. Those elected to the council include Issa al-Nashar, Majdi al-Baba, Fuad al-Nahal, Atallah Abu al-Sabah, Yousef Farhat, Salem Salameh, Abu Ayman Taha and Osama Hammad. Almost all of them are described by sources in the Gaza Strip as warlords and militiamen belonging to Izzadin Kassam.