Israel: Schalit talks resume this week

Hamas and Islamic Jihad threaten to end Gaza cease-fire, claim Israel failing to honor agreement.

idf hammock 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
idf hammock 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
After over a month of delays and only days after completing a prisoner swap with Hizbullah, defense officials said over the weekend that Israel is scheduled to renew Egyptian-mediated negotiations with Hamas this week for the release of St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit. The officials said that Israel had been waiting for a green light from Egypt regarding the renewal of the talks, which have been suspended since before the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas went into effect in June. "The negotiations depend on the Egyptians," one official said, adding that there was a concern in Israel now that Hamas would raise its demands following the completion of the swap with Hizbullah. Israeli officials said that Ofer Dekel, the former deputy head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) who was appointed chief negotiator on the prisoner exchange issue, would travel to Cairo this week to discuss renewing the talks. On Friday, the Palestinian Ma'an News Agency reported that the issue holding up the negotiations was the identity of the prisoners Israel would release in exchange for Schalit, kidnapped in June 2006. Hamas said over the weekend that it was convinced that "sooner or later, Israel would give in to our conditions" regarding the case of Schalit. Abu Obaidah, spokesman for Hamas's armed wing, Izaddin Kassam, the group that is holding the IDF soldier, claimed that Israel's "intransigence" was behind the delay in achieving an agreement over a prisoner release. Referring to the recent deal between Israel and Hizbullah, Abu Obaidah expressed hope that it would serve as an incentive for a new agreement between Israel and Hamas. "Hamas considers the deal with Hizbullah an honorable achievement for the Lebanese resistance," he said. "This deal also proves that Israel's criterion for releasing [security] prisoners has been shattered. In the past, Israel refused to free prisoners serving lengthy sentences." He expressed confidence that Israel would eventually succumb on the case of Schalit. "Sooner or later Israel will have to accept our conditions," he added. "Unless Israel accepts all our demands, there will be no agreement." The Hamas spokesman said the case of Schalit was much more complicated than the Israel-Hizbullah deal because of the "siege" on the Gaza Strip and the large number of prisoners that Hamas was demanding. "We are demanding the release of hundreds of prisoners serving lengthy sentences or life terms," he said. "We are also asking for all the sick prisoners, as well as the women and minors." He said that the problem until now was Israel's "reluctance" to accept Hamas's demands. "Israel is continuing with its stubbornness," he charged. "But following the deal with Hizbullah, there are growing calls inside Israel for striking a deal with Hamas at any price." Abu Obaidah confirmed that Hamas was under pressure to replace Egyptian mediators with German intermediaries who played a key role in bringing about the Israel-Hizbullah agreement. "Egypt's role is very weak," he said. "In the absence of Arab and Islamic backing, Egypt alone can't put pressure on Israel to reopen the border crossings. Egypt's weakness is one of the reasons behind the delay in achieving an agreement over Schalit." Abu Obaidah warned that failure to comply with Hamas's demands would prompt the movement to kidnap more IDF soldiers in the future to release Palestinian prisoners. Accusing Israel of failing to abide by the cease-fire agreement by refusing to reopen the border crossings into the Gaza Strip, Abu Obaidah said he did not rule out the possibility that Hamas and the rest of the Palestinian factions would end the truce. "We will end the truce and resume our operations against Israel to force it to reopen the border crossings," he said. He also warned Israel against invading the Gaza Strip, saying the Palestinians were prepared more than ever to thwart such an offensive. Hamas Interior Minister Said Siam also accused Israel over the weekend of "violating" the cease-fire by retaining the blockade on the Gaza Strip. He said that his government was in touch with the Egyptians to acquaint them with the alleged Israeli violations. Siam also hinted that Hamas might seek the help of the Germans if the Egyptians fail to exert enough pressure on Israel to lift the blockade and reopen all the border crossings. "There are some voices inside Hamas that are demanding that we replace the Egyptians with Germans or other international parties," he said. "But until now we remain committed to the role the Egyptian mediators are playing." The Islamic Jihad organization also threatened to end the truce. Nafez Azzam, a senior Jihad official in the Gaza Strip, accused Israel of failing to live up to its commitments under the terms of the cease-fire accord. "Although the Palestinians have abided by the truce, Israel is continuing to drag its feet," he said. "Israel is still preventing enough goods from entering the Gaza Strip. One can say that the situation on the ground hasn't changed much for the Palestinians one month after the truce."