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Palestine split on Gilad Shalit swap

JERUSALEM / PARIS | 10/13/2011 12:00:00 AM |

The Palestinian Authority says it is disappointed Hamas has agreed to allow Israel to exile some of the prisoners that will be released in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Shalit is expected to be released Oct. 19 and the prisoner swap will be carried out in the Sinai Desert.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki has called into question the timing of the prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel, suggesting the two might have collaborated to embarrass the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas has seen his support surge on the back of his campaign to win U.N. recognition for a Palestinian state and Maliki, speaking in an interview with France 24 television, said he suspected the long-awaited deal was designed to steal his limelight. “We’re happy to see 1,027 prisoners released,” said Maliki. “We were very much disappointed that some of them will be transferred to Gaza and will not stay in their homes with their families in the West Bank and others will be deported.”

The deal between Israel and Hamas will see Shalit released in exchange for the release of 1,027 detainees in batches, some 40 of whom will be exiled overseas and another 163 sent to Gaza, according to Israeli officials. Gaza is controlled by Hamas, an Islamist militant group and rival to Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, which controls the Palestinian territory on the West Bank.

“We are very much disappointed with this part of the deal because we don’t want to see any Palestinian being deported from his own territory by a decision taken by his own people,” Maliki said, Agence France-Presse reported. “In this case Hamas has made a decision to agree on the deportation of so many people outside their homes in the West Bank and outside of their homes in Palestine as a whole,” he said.

“What I want to focus on here is timing,” he said, alleging that the deal was linked to Abbas’s demand that the United Nations recognize Palestine as a state, a popular idea among his people. “Is it really intended to boost the popularity of the Israeli government and Hamas vis-a-vis the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas? That’s a really legitimate question to be asked,” he said.

[HH] Shalit free in a week

Captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is expected to return to Israel via Egypt by Oct. 19, Palestinian sources and Israeli media said yesterday. The swap is expected to take place on Egyptian territory at locations in the Sinai Desert, as yet undisclosed, according to a Reuters report.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has facilitated similar prisoner swaps, has offered its services and is discussing this with Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers. “We are talking to both sides about our offer. We have offered our services as a neutral intermediary to both sides,” ICRC spokesman Marcal Izard told Reuters in Geneva.

The handover will begin with carefully timed, simultaneous moves somewhere in Egypt. But Shalit and the men and women for whom he is being traded are not likely to even come close to seeing each other. Israeli law, which stipulates a 48-hour period for any citizen to formally oppose the release of any prisoner, plus this week’s Jewish religious holiday, mean it is likely to be Tuesday at the earliest before the operation can take place. Shalit is 25 and has been the focus of an emotional campaign since his capture in June 2006. He was last seen looking pale and thin in a 2009 video shot by his captors, and he is sure to get a hero’s welcome in Israel.

A recording of the captive soldier will be released a few days following the completion of the Shalit deal, as soon as the Salah al-Din Brigades, a group that participated in the Shalit’s abduction, sees that all the Palestinian prisoners are released as promised, the spokesman for the Gaza group said on Radio A-Shams, Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

Abu Mujihad said the film would prove that Shalit was treated fairly by his captors of five years. Word of the reported video documentation of Shalit’s captivity in the Gaza Strip came as Hamas appeared to be pushing back criticism regarding the prisoner swap deal it signed with Israel. Responding to claims the Gaza-ruling group should have secured the release of Fatah strongmen Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Saadat, Hamas officials said yesterday that an insistence on the two prominent prisoners would have killed the deal, preventing the release of any prisoners. Meanwhile, Shalit’s father Noam Shalit told the Hurriyet Daily News that he has not heard his son’s voice or been shown a picture or video of him since the news of the swap deal. He says he does not know anything regarding when his son will be home but is waiting in excitement.

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