Negotiations to rescue kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit have collapsed, Hamas’s Mahmoud Zahar has claimed.
Mr Zahar, a founder of Hamas, and one of its most militant commanders, told the BBC that it was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who had caused the “failure” of the talks.
He said: "After the involvement of Benjamin Netanyahu, it appears we have gone one step back. As of now the process has failed."
Israel has been in talks for months through German mediator Gerhard Conrad over a huge prisoner swap for the abducted 23-year-old corporal.
Israel’s main negotiator Hagai Hadas was reportedly disciplined by Mr Netanyahu for agreeing to some of Hamas’s demands without authority, and has been blamed for offering too much to Hamas.
Six weeks ago, the Israelis appeared to be close to a deal which would involve the immediate release of 490 prisoners, including convicted murderers, in return for Mr Shalit. A similar number would be released at a later date.
Mr Netanyahu was reportedly unhappy with some of the senior prisoners to be released in Hamas’ original demands. Israel delivered its “final offer” in the weeks before Christmas, where a number of names Hamas had expected to be on the list were taken off, at the insistence of Israeli security chiefs.
In addition, a quarter of those Israel agreed to release were to be exiled, instead of going back to the West Bank, where Israel believes they will soon return to terror activities.
Hamas also claimed that it was halting any discussion of Mr Shalit’s release because of last week’s murder of Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in Dubai.
A spokesman for the Shalit family said they had no comment to make but were continuing to receive information about the negotiations. Over the past two months, they had asked their supporters to refrain from public demonstrations and allow the government to pursue the talks without any disturbance.