Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday that Egyptian efforts to diplomatically resolve a crisis with Israel over an abducted soldier are being set back by confusion about who has the decision-making power on the Palestinian side: The Hamas government or the militants holding the captive.
IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 19, was abducted by Palestinian gunmen during an attack on an IDF position overlooking the fence on the southern Gaza border.
"The efforts by the Egyptians are facing difficulties due to the absence of an address on the Hamas side capable of taking decisions," said Abbas, the moderate leader of the mainstream Fatah movement.
"Hamas political leadership outside are saying the decision is in the hands of its military wing inside Gaza, while the military wing is saying the decision is in the hands of the political leadership outside. Ismail Haniyeh, the current prime minister of Hamas government, appears not to have any say in what is going on in this regard," Abbas said in a statement issued by his office.
"If things do not change, all indications are leading into one direction, more bloodshed, more chaos and poverty, more catastrophes, and worse instability in our region," Abbas said of the hostage crisis.
"Cool heads particularly in Israel should prevail. Military force of any kind did not work in the past, and will not work, now or in the future. In the short run, the solution is to give more time to diplomacy, and in the long run is a negotiated peaceful settlement," he said.
Egypt’s plan to dispatch the Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman to the area to mediate talks has not yet been carried out owing to the obstacles. Egyptian elements holding negotiations with Hamas representatives in Gaza and Hamas leaders in Damascus reached the conclusion that the organization was leaning towards the decision not to release Shalit except in a hostage exchange deal.
Palestinian sources familiar with the talks said that Egypt is frustrated with both sides – with Israel for its inflexibility and insistence that the only solution is the soldier’s release with no conditions, and with Hamas for their refusal to agree to anything that does not include the immediate release of security prisoners.
Palestinians officials said that one of Egypt's suggestions was that the soldier be released immediately, and later Israel would free Palestinian security prisoners as a goodwill gesture in advance of the upcoming diplomatic meeting between President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. But this plan also ran aground. Sources in the Palestinian Authority said that the next few hours would be decisive, although estimates are that no breakthroughs will be made. In the PA, concerns are high that a breakthrough will not be reached until another round of bloodshed on both sides.
The factions who captured Shalit demanded earlier Saturday that Israel free 1,000 prisoners from its jails and end an assault on Gaza launched to win the soldier’s release.
The second statement from the groups since Shalit’s abduction, appeared to cast doubt on the hopes of mediators that diplomacy could soon get him free.
“We are declaring to the public our just and humanitarian demands,” said the statement faxed to news agencies by the armed wing of the governing Hamas Islamist group, the Popular Resistance Committees and Army of Islam.
Earlier Saturday an initial report on Shalit’s condition was received, seven days after his abduction.
Palestinian sources said an examination of the soldier by a Palestinian physician a few days after the kidnapping found that he is suffering from a light stomach injury caused by shrapnel.
The Associated Press contributed to the report.