GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories (AFP) – Hamas on Sunday accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of “lying” to the Israeli people about a prisoner swap deal to secure the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit.
Shalit was snatched by Gaza-based militants, some of them from the Islamist Hamas movement, in June 2006 and efforts to free him in a prisoner swap deal collapsed last December.
But Hamas, which rules the tiny coastal strip, accused the Israeli leader of misleading the public over the reason behind the collapse of negotiations.
“Your leaders are lying to you — don’t believe these people,” senior Hamas leader Mahmud Zahar told reporters in Gaza City during a protest by the families of prisoners being held in Israel.
“They agreed to an important deal but they changed their minds as a cheap political trick to keep the unity of their government,” he said.
In December, the two sides appeared to be close to a deal, but there were sharp disagreement inside Netanyahu’s inner circle over the conditions of the swap which would have seen those convicted of deadly attacks released to their homes in the West Bank.
Since then, both sides have blamed the other for the collapse of the talks.
On Thursday, Netanyahu again pointed the finger of blame at Hamas, saying the Islamist movement had never responded to Israel’s offer to release 1,000 prisoners.
But Zahar shrugged off Netanyahu’s speech, accusing the Israeli leader of playing “tricks.”
“We want to send a message to the Israeli government: These tricks you use will not make us change our minds,” added Zahar, saying it would only serve to harden Hamas’s position in the negotiations.
“If you want a good, acceptable deal, our hands are ready to negotiate … but we are not ready to deal with these lies,” he said.
On June 25, Israel marked the fourth anniversary of Shalit’s capture, and his family last week began a 12-day march from northern Israel to Jerusalem to ramp up pressure on the government to secure a deal for his release.