Hamas Politburo Chief Khaled Mashaal held a special press conference in Damascus on Tuesday, in which he called the impending prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas, meant to see the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, a "national Palestinian achievement."
Saudi Arabia's Al-Arabiya TV reported that Egypt has made a breakthrough in its mediation of the deal and that such an exchange may take place as early as November. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called an urgent cabinet meeting to vote on the deal.
- Shalit's family: It's now or never
Mashaal confirmed that the deal will include Hamas' "VIP list" of 315 prisoners Israel was previously reluctant to releases, including ex-Tanzim chief Marwan Barghouti.
He confirmed that the deal, which includes 1,027 prisoners, will take place in two stages, and said that the list of prisoners slated for release includes all female prisoners, Israeli-Arabs and prisoners who were based in east Jerusalem, Gaza, and the Golan Heights.
"We wanted to include as many prisoners in the deal as possible, but we couldn’t free everyone," he said. He vowed to "keep fighting for the release of those left in prison… We promise you – you will be freed," he said.
National achievement. Mashaal (Photo: AP)
Hamas, he vowed, "Will see to the release of all of the thousands of prisoners held (in Israel)… Because it is the movement's job."
'Israel stretched out deal'
Mashaal further blasted Israel for "stretching out" the negotiations: "We thank the Palestinian people who suffered for five years after Shalit's capture. The Gaza Strip has suffered for five years over this."
Mashaal noted that the deal "was difficult to achieve," and commended Hamas officials involved in its completion. He also commended Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas military wing, for orchestrating Shalit's abduction.
Hamas' Politburo chief also thanked all the countries who participated in brokering the prisoner exchange, including Turkey, Qatar and Germany; but stressed that the success "does not belong to any one Palestinian party or faction. This is a national Palestinian achievement."
According to foreign media reports, a Hamas delegation led by top Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar arrived in Cairo on Monday night from the group's headquarters in Syria. Gaza sources told Reuters that the swap may even take place "within the next few days."
Senior Fatah official Qadura Fares said that the party was very pleased with the deal: "This deal represents closure and a great achievement for both Israel and the Palestinians."
Qadura noted that the Palestinians in the West Bank found out about the deal though the media and said he believed the prisoner exchange deal would affect the national Palestinian agenda.
As for the possible release of former Tanzim chief Marwan Barghouti, whose rumored released was denied by Israeli sources, Qadura said that "past promises indicated that Barghouti would be included in the deal, but we still don't know about that."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also welcomed the prisoner exchange deal: "President Abbas welcomes the conclusion of an exchange agreement (of prisoners)," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said. Abbas also thanked Egypt for its mediation.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Palestinians reportedly took to the streets of Gaza City to celebrate the expected prisoners' release.
"Tens of thousands arrived at the mosque in Jebalya to celebrate the resistance and the prisoner swap deal," Hamas said in a released statement.
Elior Levy contributed to this report
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