Hamas was strengthened by the recent prisoner exchange deal with Israel, deputy Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk said in an interview with the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper.

Abu Marzouk said that Israel Defense Forces Gilad Shalit had been one of the strongest cards in Hamas' hand.

Israel freed 1,027 Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners to secure Shalit’s return, including many who had been involved in terror attacks on Israeli civilians.

Marzouk said that the high number of prisoners released had strengthened Hamas position in Palestinian society and had increased public trust in the organization.

"Shalit's captivity had one purpose which was the exchange of prisoners and therefore the matter was separate from the political plane," Marzouk said.

Marzouk rejected the argument that Hamas hurried to make the deal following Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' speech at the UN last month and said that Hamas was not in a race with Fatah.  He said that the exchange deal was a national event for the Palestinian people.

Marzouk also said that he strongly opposed holding Palestinian legislative and presidential elections in the near future.