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Mashaal: Calling Israel's bluff
Photo: AFP
Mashaal: We know Olmert is bluffing
Hamas politburo chief, in interview with Italian daily, accuses Israel of 'constantly changing conditions' of Shalit negotiations
Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal accused Israel of constantly changing negotiation conditions for a prisoner exchange deal and of trying to bluff, in a Sunday interview to Italian daily La Repubblica, speaking of ongoing talks on the issue of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

 

"(Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert tried to frighten us with (Prime Minister-designate Benjamin) Netanyahu, presenting a negotiation with a right-wing government as more difficult. He is the one who is stressed to bring home success, without paying the price. We understand that this is a show," he said.

 

"The conditions of a deal have been known for three years and the Egyptians are familiar with them. We're talking about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, returned in two phases," he said.

 

"Olmert has just re-dealt the cards: Of the 450 prisoners in the first phase, most will not be released. As such, the war continues, while we are ready to release Shalit," he said.

 

The Hamas leader claimed that, in comparison to previous deals (such as the Jibril deal in which Israel released 1,150 prisoners for three soldiers), the group's demands are relatively low.

 

But Mashaal emphasized that his group's demands go beyond mere prisoners. "The war continues over the crossings, with the blockade. Israel is constantly changing the conditions. Lately, they have backed out of agreements and brought new demands to the table. In this way, they cheated Egypt. We are dealing with a sort of Shalit bluff."

 

'Who is in danger of annihilation?'

Mashaal rejected the possibility of a future peace with Israel. "This is a form of occupation that does not allow for such an opportunity."

 

"Every day, I see new houses being destroyed, lands annexed, new outposts built, the blockade on Gaza, the Judification of Jerusalem, killings and arrests. With this type of behavior, how can Israel expect peace? We are determined to continue in our dual path of politics and resistance," he elaborated.

 

When asked about his group's refusal to recognize Israel he responded: "Who is in danger of annihilation today, Israel or the Palestinians? We are the ones who are paralyzed, attacked by bombs and weapons with phosphorus."

 

"What is the meaning of recognizing Israel? It's a request that's demanded only of us, not Syria, with whom the US and Israel communicate," he said.

 

US overture? 'A matter of time'

Mashaal, in the interview, also expressed optimism about greater recognition from the US, under the leadership of US President Barack Obama.

 

"A new language towards the region is coming from President Obama. The challenge for everybody is for this to be the prelude for a genuine change in US and European policies. Regarding an official opening towards Hamas, it's a matter of time," he said.

 

At the end of the interview, Mashaal answered a question about whether he thought Netanyahu might try to have him assassinated.

 

"He has tried," responded Mashaal, "and he may try again. I expect to turn into a shahid at any moment, when and how – God will decide. Mossad agents attempted to assassinated Mashaal in Jordan, in 1997.

 

Reuters contributed to this report

 


First published: 03.22.09, 14:49
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