Israel Ready to Free Hamas Terrorists; Fatah Refuses
Hundreds of Hamas terrorists, including murderers, are hoping for a final word from their leaders and from the Israeli government for their release, while their comrades in Fatah jails are less optimistic.
Contrary to the Israeli government, the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority in Ramallah has refused to free Hamas prisoners. The rival parties had agreed last month on a prisoner exchange, but after Fatah freed several of them, a nearly-equally number was arrested.
Unity talks between Fatah and Hamas have been stymied, partly because of the issue of Hamas prisoners, whom Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas has refused to free.
The Israeli government considers Abbas a moderate, but if a deal is closed for the return of Shalit for terrorists, the move will put pressure on Fatah to match Israel’s concessions vis-à-vis Hamas. Israel and Hamas do not officially recognize each other but have been holding talks mediated in separate rooms by Egyptian officials.
Among those the Olmert administration is prepared to free are those who are serving life sentences or multiple life terms for involvement in killing Israeli civilians and soldiers. Several prospective terrorists to be released are Israeli citizens.
“Their imprisonment is considered by the Palestinian public to be one of the great failures of Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO),” wrote Haaretz journalist Amira Hess on Monday morning. “The release of these prisoners via Hamas efforts would score the movement a winning point at the expense of Fatah.
Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his wife, a former Peace Now activist and spokeswoman, have been backed by dovish media, academics and intellectuals in their attempt to bring back home kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. He was left behind in Gaza when the government ordered the IDF to pull out in mid-January after a three-week counterterrorist campaign aimed at stopping rocket fire that has continued on an almost-daily basis against Israeli civilians in southern Israel.
Prime Minister Olmert stated at the time he would make every effort to win Shalit’s release but did not explain why pressure was not put on Hamas while the IDF was in control of most of Gaza.