Syria disrupting Shalit negotiations

Hamas refuses to approve Egyptian deal because "Syrians are inciting" leaders.

Gilad Shalit 298 ch 10 (photo credit: Channel 10)
Gilad Shalit 298 ch 10
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Negotiations over the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit have stalled because of the intervention of Syria, which is exerting pressure on the Hamas leadership not to accept proposals made by the Egyptian mediators for a prisoner swap with Israel, Palestinian Authority officials here told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "Syria is playing a very negative role," said one official. "[Hamas leader] Khaled Mashaal, who is based in Damascus, is refusing to approve an Egyptian-brokered deal because the Syrians are inciting him." Another senior PA official told the Post that the Syrians were clearly unhappy with the involvement of the Egyptian government in the negotiations. "The Syrians believe that Egypt is representing the interests of Israel and the US in the region and that's why they are very suspicious of the Egyptian role," he explained. "Had it not been for the intervention of the Syrians, the Israeli soldier would have been released a long time ago." Despite the pessimistic note, the official said that the working assumption in PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's office is that Shalit would be released sometime in mid-September in exchange for some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. He said that at the request of Abbas, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Gulf states were pressurizing the Syrian authorities to stop meddling in the case. "We are hoping that the case of the soldier will be closed before the start of the holy month of Ramadan [in the last week of September]," he said. Recent reports in a number of Arab newspapers in London, Cairo, Beirut and the Gulf claimed that a prisoner exchange deal had already been reached and that Shalit's release was imminent. Abbas on Tuesday downplayed the reports, saying the negotiations had yet to produce fruitful results. Mashaal, in an interview published on Thursday in Lebanon's daily Al-Akhbar, said that no serious negotiations have been held on a prisoner swap. He reiterated Hamas's earlier position that Shalit would only be released as part of a prisoner exchange deal. "There is no other way except negotiations, which have not started yet because Israel refuses to admit that its attempts to free the soldier without a price have failed," he said. "We receive many international delegations that come to discuss the issue but none of them has a full and serious mandate." Abu Mujahed, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, one of the groups believe to be behind the abduction of Shalit last June, said on Thursday that the captors were the only ones authorized to set conditions of the release of the soldier. "We alone will decide the criterion for any deal and the names of the Palestinian prisoners who will be included in it," he said. Abu Mujahed dismissed as untrue details of purported deals that had been reached with Israel. "We don't know about these deals that appeared in the media," he said. He added that the kidnappers were demanding that Israel first release all female and minor prisoners in return for information about Shalit's condition. Then, he added, Israel would be required to release 1,000 Palestinian and Arab prisoners, including leaders of various groups and elderly and sick inmates. At a later stage, Israel would have to lift the closure imposed on the West Bank and Gaza Strip and halt all its military activities in these areas.