Hamas says not interested in renewing Shalit negotiations
Impasse despite gov't decision to okay releasing prisoners who've killed Israelis in return for abductee.
Hamas is not interested in renewing talks to free abducted soldier Gilad Shalit, a senior Hamas official said Monday. The official said that as long as Israel fails to completely lift the siege on the Gaza Strip and to remove obstacles to the free transfer of goods between Israel and Gaza, Hamas would not enter into new talks.
Israeli defense sources Monday confirmed that Hamas was toughening its stance and had suspended talks on Shalit's release, infuriating Egypt and causing it tension with Hamas.
Chief Israeli negotiator Ofer Dekel has visited Cairo over the past two weeks. A Hamas delegation also visited the Egyptian capital recently and said it would not renew the talks. Hamas criticized the Egyptians, saying Cairo was unable to bring about the renewal of the negotiations at this stage. Egypt is linking the opening of the Rafah border crossing with Shalit's release, while Hamas refuses to agree to any such condition, said the Hamas official.
There are deep differences in opinion between Egypt and Hamas on Shalit's release, the London newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat reported. It said paper, senior Hamas officials blame the Egyptians for dragging out everything connected to the negotiations over Shalit, and some Hamas officials are even demanding that Germany replace Egypt as mediator in the talks.
Hamas is accusing the Egyptians of taking Fatah's side in the crisis between Hamas and Fatah, blaming only Hamas for the recent fighting between the two organizations' militant factions in Gaza.
Tensions between Egypt and Hamas escalated recently after the Egyptians prevented a Hamas parliamentary delegation from entering Egypt through the Rafah crossing on its way to Yemen. On Sunday Hamas organized a demonstration in which hundreds of Palestinians participated. They called on President Hosni Mubarak to open the crossing.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak Monday closed down the border crossings to the Gaza Strip in response to Qassam rocket fire from the strip. One rocket landed Monday afternoon in a residential neighborhood of Sderot, causing no injuries.
Barak did say, despite the border closure, that he would permit the transfer to Gaza of NIS 72 million that Israel owes the Palestinian Authority today, in response to a personal request from PA prime minister Salam Fayyad.
The Palestinians said they needed the money to pay PA employees' wages in the strip. Defense sources criticized the decision. They said it was doubtful whether the PA could control the money once it reached Gaza and raised fears that some of it would fall into Hamas hands.
Barak's people dismissed the criticism, saying that Israel had consented to requests from the international community and Quartet envoy Tony Blair to transfer the money and that the move was in the PA's interest.
Senior IDF officers yesterday visited the Muqata compound in Jenin, meeting the heads of the Palestinian defense branches in the West Bank. They discussed the introduction of Palestinian policing troops into Jenin in May and the PA's expanded security authorities in the region.
A defense establishment official commended the improvement in the PA's law and order enforcement, but said it is still not fighting the terror groups resolutely enough. He also said the PA is continuing to release Hamas prisoners shortly after their arrest.
Cabinet to okay prisoner criteria
The ministerial panel handling the release of Palestinian prisoners decided Monday to recommend releasing a number of prisoners with "blood on their hands."
The committee's recommendations will include the release of between three and five Palestinians who committed murder. The committee consists of Vice Premier Haim Ramon (Kadima), Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann (Kadima), Public Security Minister Avi Dichter (Kadima) and minister without portfolio Ami Ayalon (Labor).
The murderers to be released have all served over 25 years in Israeli prisons, and were jailed well before the Oslo Agreements.
In addition, the ministers asked the Shin Bet security service to prepare a list of 150 to 220 additional prisoners who are not considered to have blood on their hands, as well as a list of sick prisoners who were supposed to be released after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided to make a goodwill gesture toward Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The criteria for releasing the Palestinian prisoners is to be submitted to the cabinet for its approval on Sunday.