The Hamas movement denied Thursday that Israel's decision to release Saleh al-Arouri, one of the founders of the group's military wing, is related to a possible prisoner exchange deal to secure the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit.
Earlier this week, Hamas claimed Israel had expressed a wish to renew negotiations on the deal, which have been suspended since Hamas refused its offer last December.
Al-Arouri, who was under administrative detention, was released from prison on Tuesday as part of a deal with the Defense Ministry according to which he would leave the territories for a period of three years.
Ynet learned that Israel has released other Hamas members in recent days, some of whom have completed their prison sentences and others who have secured similar deals.
Hamas sources stressed that such deals are individually contracted between administrative prisoners and the defense establishment. Al-Arouri, for example, was released after he promised to leave the territories at the end of the month for three years. He initially demanded to be released to the Gaza Strip but his request was denied.
Other Hamas members released in recent days include Sheikh Shaker Amara, Hamas chief in Jericho, who had completed his prison sentence. Ynet further learned that three prominent West Bank activists, including Hamas' TV manager, who were prohibited from leaving the area were allowed to depart for Malaysia for studies.
Palestinian security sources estimated that the three will not stay only in Malaysia and added that despite denials it appears as though Israel is trying to foster trust with Hamas towards the possibility of renewing talks on Shalit.
'Good deal for al-Arouri'
Saleh al-Arouri, one of the founders of Hamas' military wing in the West Bank, operated in the Ramallah area. He has not been active in the last decade and has been occasionally placed under administrative detention. He was last arrested in May 2007 and has been in prison since.
Despite being one of the military wing's leaders, al-Arouri has maintained a pragmatic standpoint in recent years, opposing Hamas' hard-line policy. Shortly before his arrest he appeared in public with Fatah officials in the West Bank and condemned Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip.
Under his deal with Israel, Al-Arouri will be accompanied by his wife and mother outside the West Bank.
"It was clear for al-Arouri that as far as Israel was concerned he must be either in jail or dead, and therefore this deal is very natural to him – but has no connection to the negotiations on the Shalit deal," a Hamas source said. The source refused to comment on the permit Hamas operatives were given to leave the territories.
Gilad Shalit was abducted to the Gaza Strip 1,362 days ago