JERUSALEM, (AFP) — Israel on Thursday released a Hamas lawmaker arrested nearly four years ago following the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by Gaza militants in a deadly cross-border raid, prison authorities said.
Mohammed Abu Teir, a senior Hamas leader known for his bright orange beard dyed with henna, was welcomed by dozens of family members and supporters at his home in annexed east Jerusalem.
Abu Teir was jailed after being found guilty of “membership in an illegal organisation and hostile and terrorist activities,” a spokeswoman for the Israeli prison service said.
He was among more than 60 Hamas elected officials arrested after the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, then 19, was captured in June 2006 in an attack claimed by Hamas and two smaller groups.
Many have since been released, and at present Israel is holding 10 Hamas MPs, as well as two from the secular Fatah movement led by Mahmud Abbas and one from the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
Hamas has demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, including several top militants convicted of deadly attacks, in exchange for Shalit, who is being held in a secret location in Gaza.
The last round of talks over Shalit, mediated by Egypt and a German diplomat, ground to a halt late last year when Israel presented an offer to which Hamas has not yet officially replied.
Israel and Hamas have each blamed the other for failing to reach a deal.
Hamas won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections in January 2006, the first it contested, securing 74 seats in the 132-member legislature and routing long-dominant Fatah, which won just 45.