Among the Hamas members who are jailed in Israel are a number of the Islamist group's representatives in the Palestinian parliament. According to Fatah officials, their release would shift the balance of power in parliament in Hamas' favor and may result in the dismissal of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Following the Hamas parliament members' arrest in the aftermath of Shalit's kidnapping on June 25, 2006, Fatah deemed the parliament illegal.
A senior Hamas source told Ynet Tuesday that during the negotiations for Shalit's release it was agreed that Israel would free 600 Palestinian prisoners, including 150 minors and women held in Israeli jails.
According to the source, some "interesting names" were mentioned during the talks on a possible prisoner swap, including Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Saadat, the secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who was arrested last year along with a number of fellow PFLP members, for their alleged involvement in the assassination of Israeli minister Rehavam Ze'evi in October of 2001.
The Hamas source further said that in its answer to Egypt, Israel did not express any objection to releasing Barghouti and Saadat. Among the prisoners slated for release were all of the Islamist group's senior officials, including dozens of parliament members, he told Ynet.
'Divert attention from Hamas success'
Another source in Hamas said Israel demanded that the 450 adult male prisoners slated for release would be chosen from a list of 2,000 names to be submitted by Hamas, and not from the list of 1,000 names previously presented to Israel.
"The Israelis want the list to be as long as possible so they will have more room to maneuver and so the percentage of prisoners Israel defines as having 'blood on their hands' would be smaller," the source said. "Hamas has yet to decide whether this demand is acceptable."
Hamas, added the source, would make due with Israel's release of less than 1,400 Palestinian prisoners, a figure discussed at the onset of the negotiations, if the deal would also include other issues, such as a ceasefire and the easing of the economic blockade imposed on Gaza.
"Thus far it is hard to speak of major progress, but as opposed to the past two months, in the past two weeks we have seen some advancement in the affair that reached a deadlock some six months ago.
"If Israel will take responsibility for the life of its soldier, some sort of agreement can be reached soon," he said.
Palestinian Authority officials said Israel would be forced to release additional prisoners in the future in order to divert attention from the Shalit deal, which would be considered an achievement for Hamas.
According to them, Israeli officials said the government would consider the release of hundreds of prisoners in the coming year as a gesture to Abbas.