Israel: No Progess on Swap Deal; Hamas, Fatah Renew Abductions

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh yesterday accused Israel of holding up a deal to release abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in return for Palestinian prisoners. While Palestinian sources have expressed optimism in recent days over an imminent deal, Haniyeh, who met Sunday with Saudi King Abdullah, told the Palestinian news agency Ramatan that Israel is dragging out the negotiations because it does not care about ending the prisoners' suffering.

Hamas parliamentary leader Salah al-Bardawil, however, reconfirmed to Haaretz that the talks "are progressing in the right direction, toward completing the deal soon."

Israeli sources said yesterday that there was no progress on a prisoner exchange. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert held a meeting with his special envoy on the issue, Ofer Dekel, and other officials. They emphasized there that Israel has no intention of complying with Hamas' demands that large numbers of Palestinian prisoners be released.

Olmert is scheduled to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Thursday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. They will discuss the prisoner release, among other issues.

The Terror Victims' Association, meanwhile, has warned that a deal for Shalit's release could come at the price of new victims if the Palestinian prisoners return to terror activities. The organization issued a list of incidents in which Israeli civilians were killed and injured by Palestinians released under various circumstances.

Last week, relatives of terror victims met with Public Security Minister Roni Bar-On to protest the "Shalit deal." The meeting was initiated by Dr. Aryeh Bachrach, whose son Ohad was murdered by terrorists in Wadi Kelt in 1995, and Yehoshua Herling, whose father, Rabbi Binyamin Herling, was killed on Mt. Eival in 2000.

Tensions flare in Gaza

Tensions between rival Palestinian factions flared in the northern Gaza Strip yesterday as 12 Hamas militants and four Fatah men were abducted. The incidents followed a lull of more than a week.

The incident began when a Hamas military patrol neared the home of a Fatah military commander, Samih al-Madhun, in the Beit Lahiya area. Madhun's guards opened fire on the patrol and abducted one of the Hamas members, setting off a series of reciprocal kidnappings. Two Palestinians were wounded by gunfire.

In a separate incident earlier yesterday, a Peruvian photographer working for Agence France-Presse was kidnapped in Gaza City. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the abduction of Jaime Razuri, 50. Palestinian security sources said Razuri was hustled into a car by five masked men as he was standing at an intersection outside the newswire's office in the city.

The Tel Aviv-based Foreign Press Association, which represents foreign journalists in Israel and the PA, condemned the kidnapping.

"We utterly condemn the continued harassment of journalists in this way. We must be allowed to work freely and without fear of kidnapping in Gaza," the FPA said in a statement.

PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' office said in a statement that Abbas condemned the kidnapping and had called for all Palestinian security forces to search for and free the man.

The Israel Defense Forces banned Israeli journalists from entering Gaza more than six weeks ago due to security warnings.