Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gilad Shalit Release: Hamas, Israel Prisoner Swap Said to Be Imminent

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gilad Shalit Release: Hamas, Israel Prisoner Swap Said to Be Imminent

Article excerpt

Israel and Hamas appear to be moving closer to a prisoner swap in which Israel would release up to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

A Hamas official who asked not to be quoted told the Monitor on Monday that Israel and Hamas would probably reach a deal by week's end. One of the Gaza newspapers closest to Hamas, al-Risala, reported that the swap was being delayed by disagreement over just one prisoner. Later in the day the family of Marwan Barghouti - a popular West Bank Fatah leader held by Israel since 2002 - claimed he would be released as part of the deal.

An prisoner exchange could provide a major boost to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been pressed by US officials and other international mediators to show he's working in earnest to reverse a near breakdown in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. Similarly, the deal would bolster Hamas - and in Mr. Barghouti could provide a charismatic leader to succeed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has said he will not seek reelection, and possibly bridge the Fatah-Hamas divide.

Palestinian political scientist Bassem Zubeidi says Hamas is insisting that Barghouti be included in the prisoner swap. If Hamas succeeds, he says, it would boost the credibility of the Islamist organization, which has been largely relegated to the tiny Gaza Strip since a violent falling out with Mr. Abbas's Fatah party in 2007.

"If that happens, it will be perceived as a good achievement on the part of Hamas, and it will show that Hamas is delivering and capable of doing things, while Abbas is a complete mess," says Dr. Zubeidi, a professor at Birzeit University in the West Bank. "He has done nothing in his years of talking to the Israelis, Hamas will claim, while there will be a chance for Hamas to appear jubilant and successful."

Barghouti convicted of murder

Mr. Barghouti is often chosen in polls as the most favored man to lead Palestinians in the future. A leader of the Tanzim, a militant organization that recruited suicide bombers during the second intifada, he was convicted by Israel in 2004 on five counts of murder. …

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