Army of Islam, one of the militant groups implicated in the abduction last year of Israel Defense Forces Corporal Gilad Shalit, told Channel 10 that it has transferred Shalit to the full control of Hamas.
Until his release Wednesday morning, Army of Islam had also been holding British Broadcasting Corporation reporter Alan Johnston, who had been captive in the Gaza Strip for four months.
In an interview aired Wednesday night, Army of Islam deputy commander Abu Mutha'ana said, "We at Army of Islam made the preparations for operation 'Dissipating Illusion,' which was carried out in cooperation with the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade and the Popular Resistance Committees Salah a-Din. We kidnapped Gilad Shalit and handed him over to Hamas."
Abu Mutha'ana, fully masked and surrounded by weapons in the Channel 10 interview, did not fully explain why the movement handed Shalit over to Hamas. He said simply that Shalit was transferred "because Army of Islam was busy with other things."
A high-level security source told Channel 10 that Shalit was handed over in exchange for large sums of money and weapons.
However, the Associated Press reported that both Hamas and Army of Islam denied the television report.
In the interview, Abu Mutha'ana directly addressed the family of the abducted soldier, calling on his relatives to put pressure on the Israeli government.
"You must pressure your despotic government to release Palestinian, Arab and Muslim prisoners from jails in Israel, otherwise the Army of Islam will act.
After Johnston was released earlier Wednesday, Israel called on Hamas to free Shalit, saying that the militant group is responsible for the delay in the release of Palestinian prisoners as part of a swap for the soldier.
Miri Eisin, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, called on Hamas to free Shalit immediately. "The Hamas that brought about Alan Johnston's release is the same Hamas that abducted Gilad Shalit," she said.
Earlier Wednesday, Gaza-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said that he hoped that Johnston's release would set a precedent for a deal with Israel to free Shalit.
"As the case of Alan Johnston has ended, we hope that the case of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit may end too in an honorable deal that would secure the release of our hero prisoners from Israeli jails," Haniyeh told a news conference in Gaza City.
Eisin said, however: "The (Palestinian) prisoners in Israel would have been released long ago if the Hamas had not kidnapped Gilad Shalit," adding that Shalit's kidnapping "hindered the release" of these prisoners.
Israel has said in the past that it is willing to bargain through mediators for the release of Shalit, but is not prepared to release the prisoners that Hamas and its allies are seeking.
Shalit was seized from an Israeli border post in a June 2006 cross-border raid by militants from Hamas and other groups. Shalit's captors are demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel in exchange for the soldier's return.
Haniyeh said there was a possibility to for a deal if Israel used "logic and reason" to end the suffering of the Palestinian prisoners.
In a statement released by the Prime Minister's Media Adviser on Wednesday, Israel praised Johnston's release saying, but blamed the delay in negotiating Shalit's return on Hamas.
"The State of Israel congratulates BBC journalist Alan Johnston on his release by his kidnappers and shares in the joy of his family and that of the entire British people," said the statement.
"Israel demands that soldier Gilad Shalit, who was abducted to the Gaza Strip over one year ago, also be released by his kidnappers, who belong to Hamas. As is known, the Hamas members holding him are - in effect - preventing the release of Palestinian prisoners as has been agreed upon."
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