Hamas Official: Talks for Shalit Swap Have Resumed

The deputy head of the Hamas political bureau in Damascus confirmed the news, despite earlier denials from Hamas spokespeople.

Hamas confirmed yesterday that talks over a deal for the release of Gilad Shalit have resumed. Mousa Abu Marzook, deputy head of the Hamas political bureau in Damascus verified the news in an interview to London daily Al-Hayat.

Abu Marzook's statements were made following repeated denials from Hamas regarding a report published in Haaretz that the efforts on a deal to release the captive Israeli soldier had resumed through a German intermediary.

shalit - Daniel Bar-On - October 17 2010
Daniel Bar-On

According to the Hamas politburo deputy, German mediator Gerhard Konrad met two weeks ago with Hamas figures in the Gaza Strip. In the interview with the Arabic-language newspaper, Abu Marzook confirmed that the meeting centered on the subject of Shalit but said that the situation is frozen. It is unclear what he meant by that statement.

Abu Marzook also refused to give details on the type of proposal, if any, which the German intelligence official introduced at the meeting.

The Hamas official described the meeting as a "presentation of positions," and added that Konrad had come to the meeting after having met with senior Israeli officials.

Abu Marzook insisted that there has been no change in Hamas' positions and that the group insists on the release of prisoners, many of whom Israel says have "blood on their hands," - i.e. were involved in the killing of Israelis, and have been sentenced to life sentences or long periods of incarceration.

The head of the grassroots organization lobbying to get the release of Gilad Shalit, Shimshon Liebman, told Haaretz that the family has not received any new information on the resumption of talks for the release of Gilad.

Liebman said that even if the rumors and the reports are true, the Shalit family has already had enough of them.

"We have heard these announcements for more than four years and nothing has happened. In the case of [missing airman] Ron Arad they said that there were contacts and 24 years have passed since. All these rumors cannot alter the fact that the state of Israel and the prime minister who heads it have the responsibility to bring Gilad home," Liebman said.

Yesterday marked the 24th anniversary of the date on which Arad, an Israel Air Force navigator, was captured in Lebanon. He was never returned, despite intensive efforts on his behalf.

His wife, Tami Arad, said at the ceremony at the air base where Arad was based, that "the bargaining that is taking place over the life of an imprisoned soldier [Shalit], who was sent to fight by the state, is shameful."

She added that "today I can see how easy it is to talk abut the price and to parrot the phrase 'not at all cost' when it does not involve your child or husband."

The Shalit family and supporters will demonstrate today in front of Kibbutz Deganya, where the cabinet is scheduled to hold its weekly meeting.

Two weeks ago Haaretz quoted Egyptian sources in its report on the resumption of talks for Shalit with the assistance of Egyptian intelligence and a German mediator. That same day, a Palestinian website, Quds.net, which is based in the Gaza Strip, reported that there is significant progress in the talks on a Shalit deal, especially on the identities of the Hamas prisoners that would be released in exchange for the kidnapped soldier.

According to the report, the exchanges were being conducted secretly under Egyptian auspices and Israel had shown flexibility on releasing certain prisoners it had refused before.

The website also reported that the German mediator would return to the region in the near future.

The reports were vehemently denied by the Hamas leadership, both in Gaza and abroad. Among those denying the reports was Mahmoud al-Zahar, a Hamas political leader in Gaza, Osama al-Mazayini, who is charged with managing the Shalit issue in Gaza, and Osama Hamdan, a senior figure in the group abroad, as well as others.

Zahar said that it is not possible that the exchanges were resumed because he would know about it.

Abu Marzook's statements likely caused considerable embarrassment in the top ranks of the organization, who were caught either lying or out of the loop.

Speaking to Haaretz yesterday, al-Zahar could not give any details of the meetings with the German mediator. The senior Hamas figure said that he had no idea who Konrad had met with and that he had no information whether such a meeting took place.

"This is what we are now trying to ask Mousa," al-Zahar said.

It appears likely that Konrad met with some of the heads of the Hamas military wing in the Gaza Strip without the local political leadership knowing about it.