Shalit and prisoner swap talks have stalled, says Hamas leader
Negotiations for the release of Franco-Israeli prisoner Gilad Shalit (pictured) have never been smooth, but now they're at an impasse. Israel is refusing to release certain high profile Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit.
AFP - Negotiations between Hamas and Israel over a prisoner swap involving captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit have stopped, a senior official in the Islamist movement said in an interview aired on Tuesday.
"Up to this moment, we fail to achieve this process," Mahmud Zahar told the BBC.
"After the interference of (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu, there was a big regression and retraction. For this reason, everything has stopped," said Zahar, one of the leaders of Hamas in its Gaza Strip stronghold.
Shalit, now 23, was captured by Hamas fighters and militants from two other groups in a deadly cross-border raid from Gaza in June 2006.
Although Israel is reportedly prepared to release about 450 prisoners in exchange for Shalit, Netanyahu has vowed not to free several high-profile Palestinians who Hamas insist must be part of any deal.
Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Israel wanted to carry out a prisoner exchange, but that it refuses to allow Palestinians convicted of taking part in deadly attacks against Israelis to return to the West Bank.
"If Hamas wants a deal, it will happen. If not, it won't happen. The decision is in its hands," Netanyahu told a Jerusalem press conference alongside Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Last month, the Israeli premier told his right-wing Likud party that he would not release "terror masterminds and never agree to the return of dangerous terrorists to the West Bank."
Netanyahu was apparently referring to Marwan Barghuti, the popular Palestinian leader who Israel holds responsible for instigating the 2000 outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
Barghuti, who was elected to the governing body of the secular Fatah party of Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in August, is currently serving five life sentences for murder and his role in the intifada.
He is widely seen as the uprising's architect, although he has said he opposed attacks on civilians inside Israel, including the scores of suicide bombers sent in by armed groups.