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Friday, July 07, 2006

Potential Resolution

Hamas and Israel hint at deal to free captured corporal
From Stephen Farrell, in Gaza City

HOPES of a negotiated end to Israel’s military offensive in Gaza rose last night after Hamas said that the a soldier whose abduction sparked the operation was safe and well.

The Islamist movement’s first direct statement on the fate of Corporal Gilad Shalit came as the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas claimed that Israelis had offered to pull troops out of Gaza and release Palestinian prisoners if their soldier were set free.

Despite a public refusal to negotiate, an Israeli cabinet minister indicated that Palestinian prisoners could be freed as part of a deal.
Hamas said last night: “His treatment is being done well and in a humanitarian way in accordance with the orders of our religion. We stress that negotiations are the only way out of this case and the sole way to preserve the life of the soldier and secure his safe return to his family.”

Speaking at his Gaza headquarters, Mr Abbas claimed that Israel had told President Mubarak of Egypt that a deal could be done. “There are Israeli promises to release a number of prisoners who have been in jail for more than 20 years, the sick, women and children,” Mr Abbas said. “This promise was given to Mubarak. If they release the soldier this will happen, they will withdraw and release the [Hamas] MPs and prisoners.”

The statement came shortly after Avi Dichter, Israel’s Minister of Public Security, said that if Corporal Shalit were released and militant groups halted rocket attacks on Israel then his Government could reciprocate. “Then, in a goodwill gesture, Israel, as it has in the past, knows how to free prisoners,” he said.

Israel escalated its incursion into Gaza on Wednesday after a ten-day stand off during which Palestinian militants demanded 1,500 women and young prisoners be released in return for Corporal Shalit, and then halted discussions when an ultimatum passed. On Thursday more than 20 people died in heavy fighting and yesterday five Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops in northern Gaza.

Ehud Olmert’s Government has refused to negotiate, instead seeking to pressure the Hamas-led Government by moving tanks into Gaza, destroying Palestinian infrastructure and crippling its only power station. However, Israel has no desire to become bogged down in the densely-populated Palestinian strip that it evacuated 10 months ago.

Amir Peretz, the Defence Minister, said: “On the one hand, we are determined not to be dragged into the Gaza mire. On the other, it must be clear to everyone that their hiding in this swamp will not clean it or distance it. We will find a way to strike all those who try to strike the citizens of Israel.”

As Israel’s military operation in Gaza continued the EU it of using disproportionate use of force. “The EU condemns the loss of lives caused by disproportionate use of force,” a statement by the Finnish presidency said.

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