shalits - dror artzi - oct 24, 2010
Noam and Aviva Shalit at a protest in Kibbutz Degania in October. Photo by Dror Artzi
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The German mediator in the Gilad Shalit deal, Gerhard Conrad, did not meet recently with a Hamas leader in the West Bank, but had indirect contact with him, Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat reported over the weekend. This comes after the paper said last week that Conrad had met with the leader, Sheik Hassan Yousuf, who is in prison in Israel.

A senior Hamas figure who requested anonymity told the paper Thursday of the exchange between Conrad and Yousuf, saying the organization's leaders in prison had the same influence as those free whether at home or abroad.

"Everyone is united over the movement's stance on the deal," he said. The Hamas figure said Israel had vetoed the possibility of even discussing the release from prison or the expulsion of 15 senior Hamas members whose names were on the list of 450 prisoners Hamas demanded freed in return for captured soldier Gilad Shalit.

The Hamas figure said the governments of Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Olmert were the ones that pulled back from their original positions and have prevented the deal from going through.

"Each time there is progress, the Israeli side pulls back," he said. "Initially the Israelis vetoed the release of 149 prisoners and then they went down to 50, and in the last round they insisted on not releasing 15 people whom they say have blood on their hands."

According to the Hamas figure, Ahmed Ja'abari, a senior military commander, opposed the deal without those 15 leading prisoners.

It is unclear if the report is accurate; even the newspaper expressed reservations about part of it. But if there is truth in the report, there is significant movement on the Israeli side. Under Olmert, Israel rejected any discussions on the release or expulsion of 125 prisoners, compared with the current number mentioned.

The 15 are senior members of the group's military wing. Among them are Abdullah Barghouti, who is responsible for the Jerusalem bombings at Cafe Moment and the Hebrew University, and Abbas al-Sayad, who was accused of planning the Park Hotel bombing in Netanya. All these attacks took place in 2002.

Marwan Barghouti, although not a Hamas man, is one of the 15, and Saudi newspaper Al Madina reported Wednesday that Israel would be willing to release him. There has been no confirmation of this on the Israeli side.

Another unconfirmed report came from the Kuwait News Agency, claiming that the German mediator visited the Gaza Strip last week, the second time in two weeks.

It would appear that the frequency of reports suggests some movement, or at least that the German mediator is pressing hard to restart the negotiations to free Shalit.