Hamas turf war paralyzes talks

Palestinian Authority officials here on Saturday said that divisions inside Hamas were preventing progress in talks aimed at releasing kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Shalit. "Hamas doesn't know what it wants," a PA official told The Jerusalem Post. "The movement's leaders are saying different things and we don't know who's in charge there. The rivalry within Hamas makes it difficult to reach an agreement." The official was speaking shortly after PA President Mahmoud Abbas's office issued a statement saying it was not clear who in Hamas was making decisions about the soldier. According to the statement, mediation efforts by Egypt and other countries have yet to bear fruit because it was unclear who was authorized to take decisions - the military wing of Hamas, which is believed to be holding Shalit, or Hamas's political leaders abroad. PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who has been negotiating with Abbas for the past week, apparently has no say in the matter, the statement added. "The next hours are critical, sensitive and serious. And though the efforts are still continuing, we have not reached a satisfactory solution until now," a spokesman for Abbas said. "After a week of continuous and lengthy contacts with all parties - Palestinian, Arab, international and particularly Egyptian - the president [Abbas] is still exerting efforts to stop the Israeli incursions, assassinations and detentions, and avoid more disasters for the Palestinian people," he said. Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who was supposed to visit the Gaza Strip over the weekend to negotiate with Hamas, postponed his trip, apparently after learning that the kidnappers had not softened their position. Mashaal was scheduled to visit Cairo over the weekend for talks with Suleiman on ways of ending the crisis. It was not clear on Saturday whether Mashaal had arrived in Egypt. The kidnappers are demanding the release of at least 1,000 Palestinians from Israeli jails in return for information about the condition of Shalit. On Friday, Egyptian security officials based in the Gaza Strip sounded much more optimistic about the prospects of reaching a deal. Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the Palestinian Legislative Council's Political Committee, said on Friday that the two sides were close to reaching an agreement on a prisoner swap. He said that the under the terms of the agreement, which was being brokered by Egypt, Shalit would be exchanged for several hundred Palestinian prisoners, including all the female inmates. He said the deal would also call for Israel and the PA to return to the negotiating table and for Israel to halt all its military activities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri said on Saturday that his movement wanted a prisoner swap similar to the one that was reached in January 2004, when Israel released senior Hizbullah members and 400 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for kidnapped Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers. "There will be no solution for this case without the release of Palestinian prisoners," he said. "We want a prisoner exchange like Hizbullah, which swapped the bodies of three Israeli soldiers for hundreds of Arab prisoners held in Israel." Also on Saturday, PA Deputy Minister of Prisoners Affairs Ziad Abu Ein announced that Shalit has received treatment for wounds sustained during his abduction and that he is in stable condition. Speaking at a news conference in Ramallah, Abu Ein cited unidentified "mediators" as telling him that Shalit had been wounded during his abduction. "He has three wounds," he said. "I guess shrapnel wounds." Abu Ein, who is a senior Fatah leader, later claimed that he was only quoting media reports and that he did not have independent information regarding Shalit's condition or whereabouts. In his first public appearance since Shalit's abduction a week ago, Haniyeh said on Friday that his government would not cave in to Israeli demands. He added that he was working hard to resolve the crisis peacefully. Referring to the IDF's detention of Hamas ministers, legislators and mayors, Haniyeh told worshipers at a mosque: "When they kidnapped the ministers, they meant to hijack the government's position, but we say no positions will be hijacked, no governments will fall. "This comprehensive aggression shows there is a premeditated plan against the people and the legitimate government and the elected PLC. How can we explain the arrest of the ministers and the PLC members? The threats don't scare us. This is an old/new policy, because we believe that lives are controlled by God," he said. Also on Saturday, Hamas condemned US President George W. Bush as the "leader of evil and the number one sponsor of terrorism in the world." The attack on Bush came in response to statements made by US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, who described Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal as a "known international terrorist."