Ma'an Exclusive - Egypt brokers breakthrough in release of Palestinian prisoners for Gilad Shalit
Published Thursday 27/12/2007 13:29
Jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouthi
whose release has long been demanded
Bethlehem - Ma'an exclusive - During his trip to Egypt Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian officials have achieved progress towards a potential prisoner exchange agreement including the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit
Egyptian mediators convinced Israeli authorities to release 200 long-term Palestinian prisoners, many of whom are leaders in Palestinian military organizations.
Barak is in Egypt following a diplomatic dispute in which Israel accused Egypt of helping to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip.
Ma'an's sources said Israel has agreed to release the first 100 prisoners when Shalit is handed over to the Egyptian security forces, and another 100 when he has returned to Israel.
Shalit was captured by armed Palestinian groups during fighting in the summer of 2006. Israel responded to the abduction by seizing hundreds of Palestinians, including dozens of members of the Palestinian Legislative Council who remain in Israeli prisons to this day.
Reuters and the London-based Arabic daily Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper meanwhile reported that European diplomats have spoken with a Hamas official who is in charge of Shalit's case, who said, "Israel reached consent that Shalit's file can not be addressed militarily."
The same official also told Ma'an's source, "Israel eventually complied with most Hamas' demands despite the fact that they knew the prisoners' swap would strengthen Hamas."
Amongst the prisoners nominated to be freed is Abdullah Al-Barghouthi, who was responsible for designing the explosive devices which were detonated in Israeli cafés in Jerusalem years ago killing 66 Israelis.
The deal also includes Hasan Salamah who sent Palestinian combatants to blow themselves up in two Israeli buses in Jerusalem killing 46 Israelis.
Nael Barghouthi, who sent the Palestinians who blew themselves up in a hotel in Natanya in 2002 killing 20 Israelis is also nominee for being released in the deal.
The swap also includes Fatah's strongman Marwan Barghouthi, the founder of Al-Aqsa Brigades who is serving 5 life sentences, and Ahmad Saadat, the Secretary General of the PFLP, whom Israel accuses of being behind the killing of late Israeli tourist minister Rahvam Zeivi.
The deal also includes Muhammad Sharaka who was in charge of the Hamas group that abducted and killed two Israeli soldiers in 1989.
The names of those prisoners believed to be included in the prisoner exchange were published in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth last Sunday.