Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat-The Hamas Movement said that three key obstacles frustrated the efforts to reach any agreement on the exchange of prisoners with Israel.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Osama al-Mazzini, a leading figure in the Hamas Movement who knows the details of the prisoner exchange talks, said three key obstacles aborted the agreement. He explained: “The first obstacle is that Israel agreed only on 300 people from the list that includes 450 names. The second obstacle is that they [the Israelis] want the West Bank prisoners to be expelled outside the homeland. The third obstacle is that they insist on excluding some mujahidin from the exchange process.”
Al-Mazzini noted that Israel first said it would accept the Hamas list but backed down afterward. He added that Israel then agreed on the names of only 300 prisoners and insisted on the expulsion of a large number of them.
Al-Mazzini said: “we will not abandon the 450 prisoners who have been given heavy sentences, even if [captured Israeli soldier] Shalit will remain in captivity for 10 or more years.”
Pointing out that Hamas will never accept the expulsion of any prisoner outside the Palestinian territories, he said: “This is a rejected idea, and we, in the movement, closed the door to it.”
In reply to a question as to whether Hamas would accept the expulsion of prisoners from the West Bank to Gaza, Al-Mazzini said: “Every development will be dealt with as it happens.”
Even though the latest round of talks in Cairo failed, Al-Mazzini said these talks achieved a leap when Israel agreed to release 300 prisoners who have been given heavy sentences. He added that Israel refused even to talk about them in the past. According to Al-Mazzini, the negotiations on the exchange of prisoners “have ceased temporarily.”
Al-Mazzini said: “We received insufficient answers even though they were somewhat positive. We openly explained our stand and said that a bold step must be taken. However, we notice a greater desire [for prisoner exchange] on the part of the enemy more than at anytime before.”
He added: “We focus on the first phase, and the difficult decisions are made in this first phase. The second phase poses no problem.”
Al-Mazzini disclosed that Israel previously proposed a reversal of the phases. He explained that it proposed to release 550 prisoners in the first phase and release the 450 prisoners at a later stage. He noted that Hamas rejected this proposal.
He dismissed the Israeli charges that his movement was inflexible in its stand. He said: “Our demands were clear and firm. They did not change, but the Zionist enemy backed down.”
For his part, Salah al-Bardawil, a leading figure in the Hamas Movement, said Israel’s charges that his movement frustrated the exchange deal are an attempt to evade meeting the demands of the factions that hold the Israeli soldier. He noted that the aim behind these demands is to put an end to the suffering of hundreds of prisoners in the occupation jails.
Al-Bardawil said in a press statement: “Israel’s talk that the Hamas Movement is inflexible prompts both astonishment and anger.”
He expressed his astonishment because the Hamas Movement’s demand for the release of 1,500 prisoners has been described as harsh at a time when the occupation authorities are holding 11,000 Palestinians as prisoners. He remarked: “These are reversed standards.”
Al-Bardawil accused Israel of manipulating the conditions regarding the number of the detainees and of attempting to exclude some of the detainees and expel tens of others, even though these conditions are red lines. He emphasized that the policy of exclusion and forcible expulsion of prisoners is rejected.
Al-Bardawil said: “If the occupation authorities believe that the Hamas Movement might make concessions after the recent war or it might work to finish this job before Prime Minister-designate Netanyahu takes office, they are wrong and unrealistic.”