Hamas said on Friday that a captured Israeli soldier was being well-treated and that only negotiations would secure his release, in the governing Islamist group's first direct statement on Gilad Shalit's condition.
"His treatment is being done well and in a humanitarian way in accordance with the orders of our religion," the group said.
"We stress that negotiations are the only way out of this case and the sole way to preserve the life of the soldier and secure his safe return to his family. We call on the Israelis to express what they really think about the kidnapped soldier and about how his family and most of the citizens feel – they demand negotiations with the (Palestinian) resistance.
“The only thing that is putting the soldier’s life at risk is (Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert’s degrading attitude,” the statement said.
Earlier in the week terror organizations issued an ultimatum saying that if Israel refuses to release Palestinian prisoners from its jails they would consider the Shalit affair a “closed case.” While Friday’s announcement from Hamas may be the result of the IDF’s Gaza offensive, the group claims the operation is hindering efforts to bring an end to the current crisis.
'Commentators, generals taking Israel’s side'
“Israel is leading the affair to a dead end due to its insistence not to accept the Palestinians’ just demands,” the statement said.
Hamas said “we demand the release of minor and female prisoners, in addition to the release of sick prisoners, but Israel is denying all of our requests and therefore bears the responsibility for difficulties in the negotiations.”
Shalit family residence (Photo: Ahiya Raved)
The group mentioned that female Palestinian prisoners are giving birth in Israeli jails and asked, “Can people with a conscience and human feelings accept this?”
Hamas said it is aware of an Israeli effort to sway public opinion against the Palestinians and their demands.
“Commentators and generals are taking Israel’s side and justifying the government’s position – but we tell the Israelis not to be influenced by these people,” the statement said.
Hamas hopes its call will increase the chances of a deal with Israel for Shalit’s release in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.
Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he is making efforts, along with other Arab elements, primarily Egypt, to resolve the kidnapped Israeli soldier affair.
'Don't play into Israel’s hands'
Abbas told reporters that he has not lost hope that the affair will be resolved diplomatically.
“I have called for Shalit’s release from the start, but it must be remembered that we have 10,000 prisoners in Israeli jails, and they must return to their families as well,” he said.
Abbas said he is aware of a commitment made by Israel to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to release prisoners in the event Shalit is freed. His statement came shortly after Internal Minister Avi Dichter said Israel would release Palestinian prisoners to free hostages or stop the incessant Qassam fire.
However, Prime Minister’s Office officials said Dichter spoke on his own behalf and without Ehud Olmert’s consent.
The prime minister remains opposed to negotiating for Shalit’s release.
Abbas demanded that the Palestinian organizations halt the Qassam rocket fire at so as “not to play into Israel’s hands”; he called on Israel to end its Gaza offensive, and demanded that the international community exert pressure on Israel so it would stop the operation.
Reuters contributed to the report