Hamas: We can wait to free Gilad Shalit

By Moeen Elhelou, July 1, 2010
Mahmoud al-Zahar

Mahmoud al-Zahar

Hamas founding member Mahmoud al-Zahar has said that the movement is not in a rush to conclude a deal over Gilad Shalit.

"I think the deal will happen, but if not, we have patience," he said, referring to the deal nearly concluded last year through the German mediator.

The deal fell through when the parties failed to agree on the identity of the last 125 Palestinian prisoners to be released, with Israel refusing to set free prisoners who were responsible for major terror attacks.

Mr al-Zahar, who was involved in the negotiations for Shalit's release, accused Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu of deliberately torpedoing the Shalit deal in order to prevent his coalition from falling. In the final round of negotiations, he alleged, Mr Netanyahu submitted names of Palestinian prisoners which he knew would be unacceptable to Hamas, because they only had short terms left to serve in Israeli jails. "The Israeli side was not serious about reaching a true deal… Almost none of the mediators believe the Israeli side and we in Hamas cannot believe them either."

He denied that the Shalit affair had damaged Hamas's position in Gaza.

"The world rejected the results of the election in February 2006 and Shalit was kidnapped in June. But we were damaged massively by the continuing presence of our sons in the Israeli jails, and from the bad treatment our prisoners are subjected to. Imagine that a prisoner would stay in solitary confinement for 10 years, no one can imagine such a thing unless they have been through it themselves."

Meanwhile, Mr al-Zahar said he expected many more flotillas to make their way to Gaza in the near future.

"In a week or two there will be ongoing lines of [boats] like the freedom flotilla, not just from Turkey."

He said that the world pushed for the easing of the naval blockade because "the Palestinian people stood firm, waking the world's conscience, which became convinced that there was no benefit in the blockade".

However, he added that the decision was also influenced by "Israelis traders who operate heavy pressure on their government because they lost their market in Gaza".

Last updated: 12:59pm, July 1 2010