The indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas over a deal for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit have been halted, due to the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai two weeks ago, Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip said Tuesday.
The negotiations were reportedly close to a breakthrough in December, but have since stalled again.
"The current circumstances do not allow a continuation of the indirect talks to finalize a prisoner swap deal," said Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha. However, he added, "we cannot say that the talks have completely stopped. The movement will later make a final decision."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters Tuesday that Hamas is the main obstacle to a prisoner swap involving captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.
"If Hamas wants a deal, then it will happen," said Netanyahu, who appeared at a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Jerusalem. "If it doesn't want a deal, then there won't be one."
"The choice is in its hands," the prime minister added. "We have a goal of bringing Gilad Shalit home alive and well, and to do this in a way that won't enable terrorists to resume murderous acts."
Another senior Hamas official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also told the Saudi daily Okaz that Hamas decided to suspend the talks to protest Mabhouh's murder. "Israel is fully responsible for the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh," the daily quoted him as saying. "Therefore Hamas decided to halt the indirect talks."
But that same official also told the daily that the talks had been on the brink of an explosion in any case, for which he blamed Israel's government.
Mabhouh, a senior Hamas official who Israel said was involved in smuggling weapons into Gaza, was found dead in a Dubai hotel room on January 20. Hamas has accused Israel of being behind his death.
The Shalit family, which has been keeping mum on the negotiations for the last several weeks, broke its silence on Tuesday to lash out at Hamas.
The family said in a statement that Hamas leaders "ought to remember that in addition to holding Gilad hostage without any basic human rights, they have also kept hundreds of thousands of Palestinian residents of Gaza in an intolerable humanitarian situation for almost four years. Because of Hamas leaders' stubbornness, hundreds of thousands of ordinary, uninvolved civilians are living under siege for the fourth year now, in poverty, hunger and economic and diplomatic strangulation. Therefore, the time has come for Hamas leaders to think carefully about their actions and start putting the interests of their people above their own political interests."
Israel has conditioned reopening its border with Gaza on Shalit's freedom.
Activists for Shalit's release also responded, by going to Karni and Kerem Shalom, two Israel-Gaza border crossings, and trying (unsuccessfully) to block the entry of fuel containers into Gaza. The family was not involved in this initiative.
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