Mashaal: Schalit deal still long way off

Hamas leader, Arab League head warn against any Arab rush toward normalization with Israel.

Suleiman 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Suleiman 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said on Sunday that it was too early to speak about a breakthrough in negotiations aimed at reaching a prisoner exchange agreement with Israel. Mashaal, who is in Cairo for talks with Egyptian government officials on the case of kidnapped IDF soldier St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit and reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, said that German mediators were also involved in the negotiations. The Germans were working closely and in coordination with the Egyptians in this regard, he said. "The case [of Schalit] is still in its early stages and we still haven't gone into details. We still have a long way to go and we must be patient," Mashaal said, at a press conference after meeting with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa. Earlier, Mashaal held talks with Gen. Omar Suleiman, head of Egypt's General Intelligence Service, and discussed with him the latest development surrounding the case of Schalit and the ongoing power struggle with Fatah. A Hamas official said that Suleiman told Mashaal that Cairo was eager to see an end to the Schalit affair as soon as possible. "The Egyptians are putting immense pressure on Mashaal to agree to a prisoner exchange with Israel," he said. The official said that Mashaal made it clear during the meeting that Hamas can't make far-reaching concessions regarding Schalit. He pointed out that Hamas was already under attack by some Palestinians for agreeing to the deportation of more than 100 Palestinian security prisoners set to be released in the framework of an agreement with Israel. Regarding the prospects of ending the rift with Fatah, Mashaal said that Hamas was serious in its desire to achieve "national unity." He held Fatah responsible for the failure of Egyptian mediation efforts because of its refusal to release some 1,000 Hamas supporters who were being held in Palestinian jails in the West Bank without trial. Mashaal warned the Arab countries against normalizing relations with Israel in return for a settlement freeze. The Arabs should wait to hear what US President Barack Obama proposed during his address to the UN General Assembly later this month. "This is a very dangerous equation," said Mashaal. "There is an Israeli effort to avoid the American demands," he said, referring to the US call for a full settlement freeze. "We warn against any Arab rush toward normalization." "The reaction would be tough" toward any Arab country that improved relations with Israel, Moussa added. Meanwhile, Schalit's grandfather Tzvi met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the sidelines of a an event Sunday held by the Yad Lebanim soldier's memorial organization at the Herzliya Performing Arts center. Aides for Barak said that a positive and friendly atmosphere pervaded the 10-minute meeting, during which the minister reportedly updated Schalit on the latest developments concerning his grandson. Tzvi Schalit said that he "thank[s] the defense minister for the encouragement [he] received from [Barak] this evening." During his speech at the conference, Barak publicly turned to Tzvi and reminded the audience that Schalit's grandfather was also a bereaved father who lost a son, Yoel, in the Yom Kippur War. Last week, the Schalit campaign had reacted harshly to words that Barak had said, including his statement that the country could not afford to pay "any price" to free Schalit. But on Sunday, he commended the family for the noble way and dignified manner in which it had endured the three years of Gilad's captivity. "We can't respond to voices from the other side, because this is a very sensitive matter," he said. "But we are doing everything that is possible and proper" to ensure that "the grandfather Tzvi, and the rest of the family can hug Gilad upon his speedy return home." Tovah Lazaroff and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report