Mashaal: "Schalit is a war prisoner;" says key to deal is Egyptian mediators.
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal blamed Israel's prime minister on Tuesday for the lack of progress in negotiations over the release of an Israeli soldier held by Hamas-allied militants in the Gaza Strip since last year.
Egypt has been negotiating between Hamas and Israel for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, seized by Hamas-allied militants last year.
But Hamas has demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel in exchange for Schalit's freedom. Israel has balked at meeting the demand, and Hamas's leader blamed its resistance on Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert's "stubbornness."
"Gilad Schalit is a war prisoner. We have accepted Egyptian brothers to be a party to negotiate with the Israelis and seek to find a solution to the matter," Mashaal said in an interview with the Al-Jazeera satellite channel late Tuesday.
He said no progress has been made in the negotiations "because Olmert is stubborn and does not want to release our prisoners."
The Israeli prime minister's office was not immediately available for comment.
A young corporal, Schalit was seized June 25, 2006, by a squad of radical Islamic militants linked to Hamas, who tunneled into Israel near an army base from the Gaza Strip.
Two other soldiers were killed in the raid. His abductors released an audio tape from Schalit on the anniversary of his capture, in which he said his health was deteriorating after a year in custody.
Israel is believed to be holding some 10,000 Palestinian prisoners.
The Israeli Cabinet approved on July 8 the release of 250 prisoners, in the government's latest gesture of support for US-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is locked in a bitter power struggle against Hamas.
Olmert agreed to the prisoner release at a June 25 summit with Abbas as part of Israel's strategy of bolstering the Palestinian leader after Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip last month.
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