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News Analysis: Prisoner swap deal with Israel serves Hamas interests

(Xinhua)

08:26, October 14, 2011

GAZA, Oct. 13 (Xinhua) -- Five years after the indirect talks with Israel to reach a prisoner swap deal, observers believe that the timing of hammering out the deal to release 1,027 prisoners for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is apparently calculated by the Hamas movement to serve its interests.

As the deal to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners was declared on Tuesday, the leaders of the Islamic movement, which rules the Gaza Strip, described the deal "a great victory."

However, the deal, that has been waited for a long time, would not include some jailed prominent Palestinian leaders, including Marwan Barghout from the Fatah movement led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Sa'adat, the chief of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

The deal was reached while 6,000 Palestinian and Arab prisoners keep on a hunger strike in all Israeli jails since Sept. 28 in protest to the tightened measures of the Israeli Prisons Authorities against them and their deteriorating living conditions.

Mustafa Sawaf, a pro-Hamas political analyst based in Gaza said that the deal "had strengthened Hamas and its credibility among the Palestinians, mainly its ideology based on the principle of the armed resistance," adding that "there is no doubt that the deal was a great achievement for Hamas."

"Hamas will soon pick up the fruits of such a historic achievement," said Sawaf, adding that Hamas proved that it is a strong movement that managed to keep Shalit in captivity in Gaza for five years, where all the Israeli security and intelligence forces failed to find his place.

Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip by force in 2007, is hoping that the release of Shalit would end a tight Israeli blockade imposed on the coastal enclave for more than four years, which almost strangled Gaza's economy and Hamas' finance resources.

Local observers believed that by releasing Shalit, Hamas managed to send a message to the outside world that the movement is capable to rule, control and struggle, as well as to deal with the Palestinian issues.

Talal Oukal, a Gaza-based analyst said that reaching the deal in this particular period would shift the balance among the Palestinian political factions, especially after Hamas' influence was overwhelmed by the large popularity Abbas recently gained in the wake of submitting a Palestinian request to the United Nations Security Council for full membership of a Palestinian state.

Samir Awad, a West Bank-based analyst also said that the prisoners swap deal "is a great achievement for Hamas movement ... but this doesn't mean no negative points, mainly after Hamas abandoned the release of top Palestinian leaders."

The expel of dozens of prisoners, included in the deal, from the Palestinian territories to Turkey, Qatar and Egypt is another negative outcome of the deal, according to Awad.

"Hamas was very interested in achieving the deal under a full Egyptian mediation and sponsorship, which indicates that Hamas will improve its ties with Egypt and reinforce the possibilities of moving its offices from Damascus to Cairo if the Syrian regime collapses," said Awad.

by Osama Radi, Emad Drimly

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