Hamas says no progress in negotiations on Schalit

Netanyahu confirms reports that contacts have been renewed with German mediator Gerhard Konrad who recently visited Gaza.

Gilad Schalit image + dad 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Gilad Schalit image + dad 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Hamas on Sunday accused Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of “misleading” Israelis by creating the false impression that there was some kind of progress in negotiations for kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.
In an early morning interview with Army Radio, Netanyahu confirmed that contacts started anew a number of weeks ago to gain the young man’s release.
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“There has been a renewal of contact with the German negotiator,” he said, adding that his office is dealing with the Schalit dossier on a continuous basis in a variety of ways.
The central channel, he said, is “negotiation [through the German mediator] that started a number of weeks ago.” Netanyahu would not offer any details of the talks.
Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official in Lebanon, told Al-Jazeera that Netanyahu’s talk about progress was aimed at “easing domestic pressure on his government.”
His words came after Channel 2 reported on Saturday that German mediator Gerhard Konrad traveled to Gaza three weeks ago to speak with Hamas about a deal for Schalit.
Hamdan confirmed that a German mediator had visited the Gaza Strip recently in another bid to achieve a breakthrough, but to no avail.
“Hamas informed the German mediator that it won’t make any concessions on its demands and there would be no return to phase zero of the talks,” Hamdan said.
He added that the mediator, whom he did not name, did not bring anything new and had only a few meetings during his stay in the Gaza Strip.
Holding Netanyahu responsible for the lack of progress in efforts to reach a prisoner-exchange agreement, the Hamas official said: “Hamas’s position is very clear. The negotiations and discussions must be resumed from the point where they stopped. We won’t return to stage zero.”
Sources close to Hamas in the Gaza Strip said that the main differences between the two sides remain over whether Israel should release Israeli Arab prisoners and those who carried out big terrorist attacks.
The sources said that Hamas and Israel would still need months to bridge the gap between them.
Schalit’s father, Noam, told The Jerusalem Post that as far as he knew, efforts to release his son have been stuck since last January with no progress in sight.
He stood next to a protest tent outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem, where he and his family have been sitting since July 8, determined not to return to their Mitzpe Hila home in the Upper Galilee until Gilad is with them.
On Sunday, volunteers helped outfit the tent for winter by installing a cement floor inside and placing a wooden one in an area outside the main tent that serves as a kitchen.
On top of the tent hung a sign with the number of days Schalit has been a captive in Gaza, 1,575. He was kidnapped on June 25, 2006, while on patrol along the Gaza border.
Earlier on Sunday, the Schalit family staged a protest at Kibbutz Deganya Alef, where the cabinet gathered for a special session marking 100 years since the establishment of the kibbutz movement.
Gilad’s grandfather Tzvi Schalit told the media there that “a prime minister who doesn’t bring about Gilad’s release – is killing him.
“I don’t know why the prime minister doesn’t make the phone call that would bring Gilad home,” Tzvi told Israel Radio. “Hamas has a very limited demand and it has not changed over the years. The list [of security prisoners that Hamas wants in exchange for Gilad] is known.”
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) said before the cabinet meeting that Israel’s position on a proposed swap for Schalit has not changed, and that he hoped that Konrad’s return to the region indicated that Hamas was showing flexibility.
“As we all know, the prime minister already accepted the position of the German negotiator, but set down some red lines,” Erdan said.
“The deal was not carried out because of Hamas’s refusal and its cruelty.”
In June it was reported that Hamas failed to reply to an Israeli offer to release hundreds of terrorists – including more than 100 responsible for murdering more than 600 Israelis – in exchange for Schalit, on condition they do not return to the West Bank, but go either to the Gaza Strip or abroad.
The offer included a willingness to release 450 Palestinian prisoners in negotiations with Hamas – of whom over 100 had “blood on their hands” – and another 550 prisoners unilaterally as a gesture to the Palestinian Authority.
However, the government made clear it would not release “mega-terrorists” – those responsible for some of the worst atrocities.
Among these mega-terrorists are those responsible for the attacks at Jerusalem’s Sbarro restaurant in 2001, where 15 people were killed; the Moment Cafe, where 11 were killed in Jerusalem in 2002; Cafe Hillel, where seven were killed in the capital in 2003; the attack in a game club in Rishon Lezion, where 16 were killed in 2002; the Dolphinarium attack in Tel Aviv, where 21 were killed in 2001; and the Park Hotel in Netanya, where 30 people were killed on Seder night in 2002.
Last December, media speculation was high that a deal for Gilad was close to completion, but the negotiations broke down by January.