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Hamas says pressure not to change its demands on Shalit
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09:01, October 20, 2008

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The Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) said on Sunday that the ongoing Israeli pressure on the movement won't change its demands on a possible prisoners' swap deal that might be reached between Hamas and Israel.

Hamas and two other small militant groups, the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) and the Army of Islam, are holding Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit as a hostage since late June 2006.

Shalit was captured during a joint unique attack carried out by the three militant groups on an Israeli army base just outside the borders between southeast Gaza Strip and Israel.

"Shalit's file is linked to the prisoners' swap. If the occupation is not committed to free our prisoners, Shalit would not be freed whatever the circumstances are," said Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas spokesman in Gaza.

Abu Zuhri's statements were made as a comment to an Israeli protest outside one of the crossings between Gaza and Israeli. Dozens of Israelis demonstrated on Sunday calling for the immediate release of Shalit.

"Shalit's family and his friends should understand very well that the government of the occupation (Israel) is the only responsible side for obstructing the prisoners' exchange deal," said Abu Zuhri in a statement.

Hamas' demands to free around 1,450 prisoners on three phases. The first phase is to free 500 women, children, patients and aged prisoners, the second phase is to free 450 prisoners with high sentences.

The third phase is to release 500 prisoners after Shalit returning back home.

The argument between Israel and Hamas, which leads the talks instead of the two other militant groups, is concentrated on the 450 prisoners. Israel says it won't free prisoners with "Jewish blood on their hands."

Earlier reports said that Israel changed the categories of releasing prisoners involved in killing Israelis and agreed to free 200 prisoners with blood on their hands. Hamas insisted that all the 450 prisoners have to be released.

"We in Hamas are interested to end the case of Shalit, but not with any price. If the occupation is not committed to the price we are demanding, Shalit would never be released," said Abu Zuhri.

Egypt is the country which acts as the mediator between Israel and Hamas to finalize the prisoners' swap. Delegations from Israeland Hamas movement have been holding talks with Egypt in Cairo to end the case.

A senior Hamas official close to the talks on releasing Shalit said on Sunday that Israel has agreed to release prisoners Hamas demanded in the first phase but withdrew its acceptance later.

The statements made by Osama al-Muzini were meant to deny reports which said that Israel has recently accepted to free 450 prisoners, whose names were selected by Hamas, in exchange for captive Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit.

"There is no new regarding this issue and what was published about the Israeli acceptance to free 450 prisoners was old news and Israel was soon retreated," al-Muzini said.

Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit had earlier critically accused Hamas movement, in an interview with London-based Saudi Arabia daily of al-Hayat, that it uses Shalit's case to serve its own and personal interests.

He said that Hamas is using Shalit's case also to exert pressure on Egypt to reopen Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, and to release Hamas prisoners imprisoned in Egyptian jails.

Abu Zuhri slammed Abul Gheit's statements and said "the case of Shalit is not the business of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry ... it is the mission of the Egyptian security intelligence."

Palestinian observers said there are arguments concerning Shalit 's file between Hamas movement's political leadership and its armed wing, better known as al-Qassam Brigades, which holds captive soldier Shalit.

"Hamas keeps Shalit as a hostage, not only because it wants to free more prisoners, but also it wants Israeli guarantees not to carry out a large-scale operation into Gaza that ends Hamas rule there," said analyst Osama Baker.

Hamas movement took control of the Gaza Strip in mid June in 2007 and routed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas security forces. Since then, the Islamic movement has been ruling the poor and besieged enclave.


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