Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Israel Mulls Freeing Hamas 'Underwear Bomber'

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Israel Mulls Freeing Hamas 'Underwear Bomber'

Article excerpt

At age 21, Wafa al-Biss was arrested at the Israeli border with explosives sewn into her underwear. Five years later, she and some 1,000 other jailed Palestinians may be released as part of a deal to free Israeli Sgt. Gilad Shalit.

In a bedroom overlooking Jabaliya refugee camp's narrow, potholed streets, an array of new cosmetics and a hairbrush are lined up neatly in anticipation of a daughter's early release from prison.

Next to a portrait of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, a framed photo of Wafa al-Biss looks out into the room she has not seen since being arrested at the Israeli border with 20 pounds of explosives sewn into her underwear in 2005. She was 21 years old.

In the photo, Wafa is dressed in bluejeans, heavy makeup, and a lace head scarf. She is unsmiling, almost defiant.

"She was the foundation of our family," says her father, Samer al- Biss, who lives with his wife and 10 other children in their three- room home. "I depended on her like I would a strong man."

Wafa was sentenced to 12 years in an Israeli prison after soldiers caught her at the Israeli-Gazan border five years ago. Now she is reportedly on the list of some 1,000 prisoners Hamas wants released in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, whom Palestinian militants captured in a 2006 cross-border raid. German- mediated negotiations over the controversial swap have gained momentum in recent months, and expectations are high on both sides that a deal could be imminent.

"I have been waiting for Wafa to come home since the day she was arrested," says Wafa's mother, Salma al-Biss. "Preparing for her return is something we do every day. Sometimes I am hopeful, and then the next day I find out there is no progress. Nothing is for sure."

At least 7,500 Palestinians are being held in Israeli jails, according to figures released by the Palestinian prisoners' affairs ministry at the end of 2009. Of these, 10 percent are from the Gaza Strip and 34 are women.

Wafa is the only woman from Gaza, but like her fellow female prisoners from the West Bank, she is young. According to the Al Dameer Prisoners Support Association, a Palestinian human rights group, 56 percent of women detainees are between 20 and 30 years old. Nearly half were either studying or had obtained their university degrees when arrested.

Wafa was recruited by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a violent offshoot of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement, to carry out the attack on an Israeli hospital where she was being treated for burns she sustained in a kitchen fire in December 2004.

Using a permit issued to her for medical treatment inside Israel, Wafa was caught with the bomb after coming under the suspicion of Israeli border guards at the Erez crossing. She tried to detonate the bomb while being strip-searched, according to reports, but it failed to explode. …

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