Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gilad Shalit Deal Boosts Hamas, but Also Reveals Group's Weaknesses

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gilad Shalit Deal Boosts Hamas, but Also Reveals Group's Weaknesses

Article excerpt

Hamas scored a victory with the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli solder Gilad Shalit. But its concessions to Israel show fragility.

Hamas is hoping for a boost in domestic popularity after securing the freedom of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for returning Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, but many also see the historic deal as a sign of the Islamic militant group's recent vulnerability.

The mass prisoner release, expected to begin next week, is being hailed by Hamas as a dividend of its policy of armed uprising against Israel. It is also stealing the spotlight from its Fatah rival, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose campaign for statehood recognition at the United Nations has been enthusiastically embraced by many Palestinians.

But Palestinians noticed that Hamas conceded to Israel on several key points, indicating it's bargaining position has been weakened by years of economic blockade by Israel and international political isolation. In addition, it faces a new threat: an uprising against its patron, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is struggling to keep his hold on power.

"This will boost will boost Hamas' popularity in the Palestinian street after years of stagnation because of the [Israeli] siege... They are promoting this as a victory for resistance," says Mkhaimer Abusada, a political science professor at Gaza City's Al Azhar University. Despite that, he added, "the deal is not as good as Hamas was hoping for."

Vindication for its tactics?

The deal is the most significant agreement that Israel and Hamas have ever reached, and the lopsided ratio of 1,027 Palestinians to one Israeli recalls a prisoner swap between Israel and Hezbollah several years ago, putting Hamas in good company.

Israel agreed to free Palestinians from East Jerusalem and Arab citizens of Israel, marking the first time a Palestinian group won clemency on behalf of prisoners whom Israel considers to be under its own civilian authority.

The agreement has been hailed as a victory for Hamas's "resistance" fighters. Militant leaders vowed to continue to kidnap more Israelis as bargaining chips to free more of the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails. …

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