GAZA, (Reuters) – Islamist Hamas said on Friday it was suspending indirect talks with Israel over a prisoner swap deal, citing Israeli violations of a declared truce in Gaza.
Gaza’s Islamist leaders have accused Israel of dragging its feet in implementing the truce deal that includes a gradual increase of goods shipments into the Gaza Strip.
Israel has briefly closed the crossings and has suspended shipments in response to cross-border rocket attacks by militants after the easefire went into effect last month.
Hamas officials were set to travel to Cairo as early as this weekend for Egyptian-mediated talks on a deal to free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for Palestinians jailed in Israel.
Hamas had sought the release of some 1,400 prisoners, a third of them serving several life terms, in return for freeing Shalit, whom Hamas and two other militant groups abducted in a cross-border attack in 2006. “Hamas has decided to suspend talks over Shalit’s case because of the occupation’s (Israel’s) non-commitment to the calm deal,” Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters. “There is no way for those talks to begin before the obligations of calm are implemented (by Israel),” he said.
Hamas officials said they had received an invitation to visit Cairo but said “there was no arrangement for a Hamas delegation to leave soon.”
Israeli government official Mark Regev said that part of the overall ceasefire deal meant that there should be “ongoing expedited work on (freeing) Shalit but he declined to give further details on the talks.
Israel has responded to previous rocket salvoes by closing crossings used to bring supplies into Gaza, which Hamas seized from President Mahmoud Abbas’s secular Fatah forces a year ago. The crossings were closed on Tuesday following a similar rocket attack but they were reopened on Wednesday. They are usually closed at weekends from late Friday to Sunday morning. “How can we go to negotiate a second agreement before the first one is implemented,” senior Hamas official Osama al-Muzaini, familiar with Shalit’s talks, told Reuters.
Israel had said it wants to speed up the talks over Shalit and the decision by Hamas could influence planned talks over the opening of the Rafah crossing with Egypt, which Israel signalled could only take place in the event of progress on Shalit’s case.