Prisoner swap negotiations over the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit have collapsed due to policies set by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar said Tuesday in an interview with the BBC.
The talks, aimed at seeing Shalit freed after three years of captivity, reached a standstill earlier this month despite repeated reports of progress. Zahar told the BBC that the sides have taken a “step backward” and that the process has “failed.”
“The main cause … is that after the interference of the political element, after the interference of Netanyahu personally, there was a big regression and retraction,” Zahar told BBC World News’ Hardtalk program. “For this reason, everything now is stopped,” Zahar said in Gaza.
In response to the report, the Shalit family said: “Before Hamas leaders declare the negotiations frozen, they should remember that in addition to holding Gilad hostage without any basic human rights, they have also been holding thousands of Palestinian residents of Gaza under an intolerable humanitarian situation for almost four years.”
“Because of the Hamas leaders stubbornness, hundreds of thousands of simple, uninvolved civilians have been living for four years under siege, destitution, starvation, as well as economic and political strangulation,” added the family. “Therefore, the time has come for the Hamas leaders to consider their steps carefully and start thinking about the interest of their people instead of their own political interests.”
An official in Netanyahu’s office said last month the prime minister had signalled a tougher stance in negotiations mediated by Germany on a deal under which Shalit would be traded for about 1,000 of the more than 7,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails.
Israel, the Hamas official said, was demanding that dozens of Palestinians imprisoned after being convicted of involvement in lethal attacks be deported upon their release.
Hamas had accepted that some released prisoners would be exiled but wanted them to be able to choose their destinations, said officials familiar with the negotiations.
Earlier Tuesday, the Saudi daily Okaz reported that Hamas has decided to halt temporarily negotiations for Shalit’s release due to the murder of a top group commander, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, in Dubai last month.
That report came despite an internal Hamas probe suggesting that Arab agents, and not Israel, were behind Mabhouh’s assassination.
A senior Hamas official told the paper that the talks had reached a critical juncture and reiterated the group’s stance that Israel is responsible for the delay in its completion.
Meanwhile, Israeli activists fighting for Shalit’s release renewed their demonstrations on Tuesday at the Gaza border. The activists, acting independently of the official Friends of Gilad Shalit campaign gathered at the border to block fuel truck en route to Gaza