Jailed Hamas Leader Blames PM for Stalling Shalit Deal

A jailed Hamas leader said yesterday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's reluctance to clinch a prisoner swap for abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit was delaying an agreement with Gaza's Hamas regime.

"The Shalit deal will not go through because Netanyahu doesn't want a deal," said Abdullah Barghouti, the former leader of Hamas' military wing in the West Bank. He has been mentioned as one of the group's leaders whom Israel may release as part of the swap.

Barghouti said of Shalit, "I am telling his family that he is in good shape. He has food, he has a room and we are not mistreating our prisoner."

A military tribunal sentenced Barghouti to 67 life sentences after he was convicted of 66 offenses including homicide, membership in a terrorist organization, manufacturing weapons, military training and conspiracy.

Barghouti helped manufacture numerous bombs used in terrorist attacks targeting Israeli civilians in Jerusalem, including the Sbarro pizzeria bombing, the suicide bombing on the Ben Yehuda Street promenade, a suicide bombing in the Moment coffee shop, and the bombing at a Hebrew University cafeteria.

Barghouti made the statements to reporters in the Nazareth District Court prior to a hearing on the state's request to extend his solitary confinement. He is serving his life sentences at Gilboa prison.

When asked why Shalit was not entitled to a trial, Barghouti answered: "When we have a state, we'll put him on trial."

"Netanyahu is busy with many things," said Barghouti. "He is busy with Kadima and other things, aside from the deal. Netanyahu is delaying the swap. Hamas, the German mediator, and [Netanyahu's representative in the talks] Hagai Hadas already signed, but Netanyahu is deliberating and backtracking."

Barghouti said his organization is yet to receive another offer for a swap. "Every day I ask God that there be a deal, but Netanyahu doesn't want it," he said. "[Gilad's father] Noam Shalit knows, but is afraid to say it."

When asked about his role in the suicide bombings in Jerusalem, Barghouti said: "As long as my land is occupied, I will fight," he said, adding "my land is all of Palestine."

"Israel needs to sit and talk with Hamas," he said. "This is the leadership the Palestinian people have chosen."

In response to Barghouti's remarks, the Shalit family said: "We are sorry that a Hamas prisoner gets the right to speak to the media when Gilad can't even see the light of day and is disconnected from the outside world." The family also said Israel's blockade of Gaza, which Israel has blamed on Hamas, hurt only the residents of the coastal territory, who had nothing to do with their son or the prisoner swap.