Hamas: Netanyahu Is Trying to Push an Empty Deal on Shalit's Release

Khaled Meshal tells Russian President Medvedev: We don't want to keep Shalit but only an honorable deal will solve the issue.

A Hamas politburo official on Wednesday accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the failure to reach a prisoner exchange agreement in which Palestinian prisoners would be released in exchange for captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

"Netanyahu is trying to push for an empty deal," Izzat al-Rishq told Reuters. "Hamas wants the maximum number of prisoners with long sentences to be freed from Israeli occupation jails."

Rishq's comments came a day after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, on a visit to Syria, asked Khaled Meshal, the exiled leader of the Palestinian Islamist movement, to quickly resolve the issue of Shalit, who was captured in 2006 by Hamas militants who tunneled into Israel from Gaza.

Hamas dismissed the Russian request on Wednesday, saying that Shalit will not be released without an "honorable" prisoner exchange deal.

"Khaled Meshal told the Russian president that we don't want to keep Shalit but only an honorable deal will solve the issue," Rishq said.

President Bashar al-Assad, who was hosting Medvedev in Damascus, attended the meeting.
Syria hosts exiled leaders of Hamas, including Meshal, and has influence on the group, which is also backed by Iran.

A German mediator renewed efforts in January to reach an agreement between Hamas and Israel, but the process has stalled.

Hamas said then that Israel was demanding that dozens of Palestinians jailed after being convicted of involvement in killings be deported upon their release.

As a right-wing leader, Netanyahu faces a particular dilemma in freeing Palestinians who might commit further violence. But he is also under heavy public pressure to win Shalit's release.

Hamas is shunned in the West because the group refuses to recognize Israel, and the United States considers Hamas a terrorist organization.

But Russia, a member of the Middle East peace negotiators known as the Quartet, says Hamas should not be isolated, and Moscow has kept channels open with the group.