Mahmoud Zahar, member of Hamas’ negotiating team in Shalit deal tells Haaretz Israel had agreed to lift blockade as part of deal in talks with a German mediator long ago.
By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz
Ending the blockade of the Gaza Strip is part of the agreement between Hamas, Egypt and Israel for the return of Gilad Shalit, according to Mahmoud Zahar, one of the leaders of Hamas in Gaza and a member of Hamas’ negotiating team in the Shalit deal.
Israel agreed to this long ago, in talks with a German mediator, and it is still part of the agreement, Zahar told Haaretz on Monday.
Zahar, who will be one of the Hamas officials greeting the released prisoners on Tuesday, said there are several other issues the sides also agreed to as part of the deal. For one, families from Gaza will now be allowed to visit their relatives in Israeli prisons. Since Shalit’s abduction, such family visits have been banned.
Additionally, in an attempt to increase pressure on Hamas to reach an agreement on freeing Shalit, Israel had stripped Palestinian prisoners of certain privileges and put many of their leaders into solitary confinement. These measures will now be reversed, Zahar said.
Finally, Israel agreed to ease the blockade on Gaza, Zahar said.
Israeli defense officials confirmed that the Shalit agreement marks a turning point in relations between Israel and Hamas. They said that various steps have already been taken to ease the blockade on Gaza in recent months, as part of the unofficial cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.
Now, Israel is evaluating the implications of the Shalit deal for its blockade policy. There are two main possibilities that any future decision to ease the blockade might include. One is to ease restrictions on the movement of people through the Gaza border crossings, and particularly travel from Gaza to the West Bank via Israel. The second is to increase exports of goods from Gaza to Israel and abroad.
There are already very few restrictions on the entry of goods into Gaza from Israel, except for those that can be used to manufacture weapons.
After Shalit’s release, Israel will no longer have any excuse to continue the blockade, Zahar said. “This is what representatives of European countries told us when they approached us about releasing Shalit, and the Israelis made this commitment as well,” he said.
The deal should send Israel a message that power cannot overcome the drive to free prisoners, Zahar added. The only way to solve the problem of the prisoners is by freeing them, he said, and the Israeli media needs to tell the Israeli public so.
Preparations for receiving the prisoners in Gaza have already been completed, including construction of a big stage for the main ceremony in the center of Gaza City. Hundreds of members of Hamas’ military wing have deployed along the entire length of the road that runs from the Rafah crossing, on the Gaza-Egypt border, to Gaza City, since the prisoners will arrive at Rafah via Egypt. The Rafah crossing area has been declared a closed military zone and only 100 VIPs will be allowed entry.
PRC leader: Israel must lift Gaza siege
BETHLEHEM — Israel must lift its siege on Gaza with the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, the Popular Resistance Committee secretary-general said Monday.
“Israel has no excuses now to keep the siege over Gaza after the release of Shalit,” Zuher al-Qeisi told Ma’an.
Israel has agreed to free 1,027 prisoners in exchange for soldier Gilad Shalit, captured near the Gaza border in June 2006.
Israel launched air strikes and raided the Gaza Strip for five months following Shalit’s capture in efforts to free the tank gunner, and has imposed closures and tied its blockade of the coastal enclave to the soldier’s fate.
Al-Qeisi said Israel “always invents excuses” to dominate and attack Gaza, adding that he hoped Arab and European states would intervene to end the siege.
Meanwhile, the PRC leader said the prisoner swap deal was “a great achievement,” but expressed regret that it did not include prominent prisoners Marwan Barghouti, a charismatic Fatah leader, or Ahmad Saadat, secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
“If Saadat and Barghouti were on the list that could have been a greater achievement and our happiness would complete but alas, we didn’t achieve all our demands.”
But, “Israel freed one Shalit who is worth nothing and we freed hundreds of detainees and we will make all efforts to release the rest and end the occupation.”
He added that the deal would benefit Hamas and the PRC as they were responsible for capturing Shalit.
Hamas has hailed the deal as a national victory and the timing comes at a good moment for the Islamist movement.
The prisoner swap switches attention back to the party that had appeared eclipsed in recent weeks by President Mahmoud Abbas’ drive to secure full UN membership in the face of stiff US and Israeli opposition.
Hamas’ criticism of the diplomatic move had appeared out of tune with public support that peaked with a strong speech Abbas delivered to the UN General Assembly on September 23.
By Osama Radi, Emad Drimly, xinhuanet.com
GAZA– A prisoners swap deal, reached between Israel and the Hamas movement on freeing the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for 1,027 Palestinian and Arab prisoners in Israeli jails, raised questions over the future of an Israeli blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip.
Although the two sides, under the Egyptian mediation, had finalized all the details of the deal to be implemented on Tuesday, neither of them had officially dealt with the issue of the Israeli blockade that the Palestinians say has exhausted their economy and daily life.
However, Hamas had expressed willingness that after Shalit, Israel would eventually lose excuse to keep the blockade, imposed on the Gaza Strip right after the Israeli soldier was seized and tightened after Hamas took control of the enclave in June 2007, routing President Mahmoud Abbas’ forces.
The deposed premier of the Hamas government in Gaza Ismail Haneya stated during Friday prayers that after finalizing the prisoner exchange deal, “the excuse of keeping the unfair siege imposed on the Gaza Strip will be over.”
Blockade not part of the deal
A senior source in the Hamas movement told Xinhua on condition of anonymity that when indirect talks on the swap deal began, Hamas negotiators asked to list ending the Gaza blockade as one of the demands for releasing Shalit, which was strongly opposed by Israel.
Western mediators, at that time, convinced Hamas leaders that finalizing the prisoner exchange deal would automatically end the blockade. Abbas also called on Israel to lift the Gaza blockade ” because it’s a collective punishment that is not allowed.”
The Popular Committee to Challenge Gaza Siege, founded at the beginning of the Israeli blockade, said Israel has lost all the excuses to keep the siege after finalizing the exchange deal, not to mention that calm has been dominating the enclave.
Nevertheless, it is possible that Israel will not change its current policy which imposed sea, air and ground blockade on the Gaza Strip, which it considered a hostile entity under the rule of the Hamas movement.
Raed Fattouh, the Palestinian liaison officer told Xinhua that his office wasn’t notified on any changes to the kinds of goods allowed in and out of the Gaza Strip after the prisoner swap deal was reached between the Hamas and Israel last week.
Ending Gaza blockade
Hani Habib, a Gaza-based analyst said every resident in the Gaza Strip had paid the price of abducting Shalit, adding that “ending the people’s suffering that was an outcome of the Israeli siege and lifting this siege must be a natural outcome of releasing Shalit …”
Nasser al-Laham, a West Bank-based analyst specialized in Israeli affairs, ruled out the possibility that Israel would lift the blockade, saying “Israel will keep implementing unilateral steps, and it is apparently not interested in lifting it completely.”
“Finalizing a prisoner swap deal between Hamas and Israel doesn’t mean to completely end the siege, because ending it would need an official agreement between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority and other parties concerned,” said al-Laham.
Release of Palestinian prisoners
Statement from Palestine Solidarity Campaign
PSC welcomes the prisoner exchange with several hundred Palestinian prisoners due to be released today in exchange for the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The Palestinian prisoners will be returning to both the West Bank and Gaza, in a deal that benefits the entire Palestinian community.
However, even when a 1,000 Palestinians, held in Israeli prisons against international law, have been released, it is important to remember that more than 6,000 remain in Israeli jails, including 164 child detainees who are not on the initial list of those to be released. Hundreds are held under what Israel terms ‘Administrative detention’ – i.e. without charge or trial, for an indeterminate length of time.
It is also of real concern that dozens of prisoners from the West Bank are being deported to Gaza, and will not be able to return to their families and homes.
The number of prisoners could well be increased again as Israel continues to detain people at will throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories; those being released, or others, could easily find themselves in an Israeli jail within weeks.
Israeli organisations such as B’Tselem and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel have documented the abuse and torture of detainees, many of whom are held for decades. When prisoners die in jail (over 200 to date) the bodies are rarely returned to their families, who are not told where they are buried.
Currently there are 2,000 Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, protesting against the worsening conditions in Israeli jails.
Sarah Colborne, Director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign said:
“As Shalit’s capture was the initial pretext for Israel’s blockade of Gaza, that blockade should be lifted, with immediate effect. And the international community should be working tirelessly to implement international law in respect of all Palestinian human and national rights.
Whilst crimes by Palestinians against Israelis are under the spot-light today, it is war crimes by Israelis against the Palestinians which go unpunished – and all too often unnoticed. We want to see an end to the illegal occupation, an end to the killings of innocent civilians at the hands of Israelis, and an end to adminstrative detentions and torture in prisons.”