Hamas: Schalit negotiations semi-deadlocked

Hamas leader says Israel refusing to release most inmates on group's prisoner exchange list.

Efforts to release kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit are "semi-deadlocked" because of Israel's refusal to release Palestinian prisoners who are serving life sentences, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said Saturday. He said Israel rejected most of the names that appeared on Hamas's list of prisoners who were supposed to be released in a prisoner swap. "Israel doesn't want to release prisoners who are serving life terms," he said. "That's why the talks over the release of Schalit are now semi-deadlocked." In an interview with Arab reporters who arrived in Syria to cover the 20th Arab summit, which began Saturday, the Damascus-based Hamas leader also said that his movement was prepared to reach a truce with Israel. However, he stressed that Hamas considers a truce as "one of the tactics" in managing the conflict. "We're not offering Israel a hudna [temporary truce]," he explained. "But we will accept a hudna if Israel abides by it. We want a hudna not only in the Gaza Strip, but in the West Bank as well." Mashaal confirmed that Egypt's efforts to reach a truce had failed. In the past few weeks, Egyptian security and political officials met several times with Hamas representatives in a bid to strike a deal with Israel. Mashaal claimed that Israel, with the full backing of the US, was searching for an excuse to launch a new war in the region. "We don't rule out the possibility that there will be more wars," he said. "Because Israel doesn't have a good excuse to launch a war against Syria, it will try to find a reason to attack the Gaza Strip and Hizbullah." Reiterating Hamas's refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist, Mashaal said that his movement had rejected attempts by Israel to conduct negotiations between the two parties. He added that Hamas was nevertheless prepared to talk to the US.