Hamas Official: Prisoners Deported in Shalit Deal Might Return

Speaking in an interview to Al-Jazeera, Osama Hamdan says prisoner swap is a 'remarkable' deal, citing Israel's planned release of East Jerusalem residents, Israeli Arabs.

Palestinian terrorists due to be deported overseas as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap deal will no doubt find their way back to Palestinian land, a top Hamas official said in an interview on Sunday.

In details released concerning an Israel-Hamas prisoner exchange agreement that would secure the release of the abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier, about half of the prisoners released in the first stage of the deal, 203, will not be allowed to return to their homes. 40 will be deported abroad, with the rest transferred to the Gaza Strip.

Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas' Qassam Brigades, March 26, 2010

An Egyptian official linked to talks geared at securing the release of the abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier told Haaretz that "Israel in fact agreed to release 40 of the 70 prisoners that it had adamantly refused to let go, after Hamas submitted an extensive list of heavyweight prisoners from which Israel would choose. And Hamas, for its part, agreed that those prisoners would be deported."

However, speaking with Sir David Frost on Al-Jazeera later Sunday, top Hamas official and member of the group's politburo Osama Hamdan indicated that those deported would not necessarily stay away from the region for ever.

Asked by Frost where the deported inmates would go, Hamdan said: "It's their choice, and what had happened was, with the complete contact with them, I think they will live for a while outside Palestine, but that does not mean that they will not be in contact with their families, with their people."

"We have to realize that hundreds of Palestinians were deported during the last four decades and at the end of the story was that every time they were back home," the Hamas official said.

Hamdan also commented on the Shalit deal, which he considered to a Hamas achievement, saying: "It is a remarkable deal."

"Part of that [are] the numbers," the Hamas official said, adding that there were other "important points. There were people from Jerusalem who were released, which was not accepted by the Israelis for decades. There were [Israeli] Arabs who were released, which is something Israel tried prevent that; there were people you committed militant operations against the Israelis directly and they were also released."

Hamdan was also asked about the possible changes Hamas had to make in its stance toward Israel, saying: "The Israelis must change, not the Palestinians."

"The struggle for six decades [is] to implement Palestinian rights, to take back Palestinian land from the occupiers, which does not appear clear to the Israelis yet," Hamdan said.

The comments by the Hamas strongman came after Hamas rejected the Palestinian Authority's accusations earlier on Sunday that the deal to free Gilad Shalit in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners is insufficient since it does not include the release of many Fatah members.

Top Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar told Army Radio on Sunday that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "negotiated with Israel for a million years and hasn't achieved a deal like this one."

Earlier on Sunday, Zahar told Al-Hayat newspaper that "throughout the negotiations, the Palestinian President offered that we release Shalit only in return for lifting the siege on Gaza and without releasing any [Palestinian] prisoners." According to Zahar, Hamas vehemently objected to this idea, "and so the Palestinian Authority has no right to voice criticism about who is released and how."