After six years in an Israeli prison, Hassan Yousef - one of Hamas' top spiritual leader in the West Bank -was released on Thursday.
Yousef was released along with 200 other Palestinian prisoners who served their sentence in full. Another 570 prisoners who served sentences for offenses not related to terror were also freed.
Yousef's release was supposed to have been completed six weeks ago but the defense establishment decided to hold him in administrative detention. Upon leaving the Ofer prison, Yousef called on all Palestinian factions to unite against Israel.
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Yousef said it was his intention to join the reconciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas and stressed that Israel declared war not just on Hamas' leaders, parliament members and field operatives but against the entire Palestinian nation. According to Yousef, Hamas will continue its struggle until the Palestinian nation is freed from Israeli occupation.
Little influenceYousef is considered to be one of the founders of Hamas and during the Al-Aqsa Intifada served as one of the organization's leaders in the West Bank. In Israel he is famous because of his son Mosab Hassan Yousef, who was considered Israel's most senior informant within Hamas during the second Intifada. Yosef junior is the author of the book Son of Hamas.
The Palestinian Authority was unimpressed by Yousef's release. A senior Palestinian source told Ynet that the release will have little effect on Hamas' already weakened status in the West Bank.
"It has been a long time since Yousef has had any influence on the people and not just him. The entire Hamas leadership in the West Bank has little influence on the ground," he said.
In a conversation with the Palestinian Ma'an news agency Yousef denied reports alleging that Hamas inmates in Israeli prisoners were behind the thwarted prisoner exchange deal for abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
"Over the past few years there were ongoing negotiations between the prisoners and Israel. I took part in some of them and the one who thwarted them was Benjamin Netanyahu," he said.
Addressing the recent wave of social protests in Israel Yousef said that he hoped the protests would "bear fruit on all issues touching upon the rights of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.
Elior Levy is Ynet's Palestinian affairs correspondent
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