Photo: Noam Rotem
The mediator, Amos Gilad
Photo: Gil Yohanan
Senior Defense Ministry official and mediator in Hamas talks, Amos Gilad said on Wednesday that the militant Islamic group controlling the Gaza Strip is more powerful than the Western-backed Palestinian Authority and is, "like a cancer."
Speaking at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Gilad said talks with Hamas designed to secure the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit have gone better since the truce went into effect in June. But he added that a deal is, "not close."
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Moreover, "since the truce discussions are more serious, but I am impressed only by results," he said.
Gilad's comments came as a senior Hamas official warned that any Israeli military action in Gaza could lead to more kidnappings of soldiers.
The Israeli mediator said that current peace talks between Israel and the moderate Palestinian government in the West Bank are not likely to bear fruit until those forces retake Gaza from Hamas.
"It's very difficult to sign an agreement with half your body," He said. Hamas' violent takeover of Gaza 15 months ago has created a two-headed Palestine, with the terror group ruling Gaza and their moderate Fatah rivals controlling the West Bank.
Gilad has made several trips to Egypt in recent weeks in an effort to win the release of Shalit, who was captured by Hamas-linked militants in a cross-border raid in June 2006.
The ceasefire is supposed to be part of a larger deal between Israel and Hamas in which Shalit would be exchanged for Palestinian prisoners and the Israeli and Egyptian-imposed closure of Gaza's border crossings would be eased.
Hamas knows that a successful prisoner release deal will be a huge political achievement for Cairo in the eyes of the United States, in the international arena and in that of the Arab world.
In exchange, Hamas wants Egypt to permanently open the Rafah crossing under the condition that the actual governance of the crossing is in Hamas’ hands.
Hamas submitted a dictation to the mediators and said it is unwilling to deviate from its contents. The main principle is that it will release Gilad Shalit and in exchange Israel will release 1,400 prisoners in two or three phases.
In addition, 450 prisoners will be freed in accordance with a name list that Hamas had already determined a half a year ago and submitted to Israel (including “weighty” terrorists, murderers or dispatchers).
The Israeli ministerial committee has already agreed to release solely 71 of the 450. The committee is currently discussing the success of these criteria especially in relation to the terminology of terrorists with, “blood on their hands.”
However, even if the criteria came to fruition, there is no chance that the government will approve Hamas’ list.
Noam Shalit, Gilad Shalit’s father, has recently expressed his adamant opposition to any Palestinian prisoner release whatsoever without stipulating the advancement of Gilad’s release deal.
Shalit made these comments in response to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s request to release additional prisoners.