Nearly four years after Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit – and months after the two sides were reportedly on the verge of finalizing an agreement for his release – talks to secure the soldier’s release appear to be stalled indefinitely.
A Fatah strongman and bitter enemy of Hamas, Mohammed Dahlan, was quoted in a Jordanian newspaper this week as saying that negotiations collapsed as a result of an internal split within the Hamas leadership over the terms of the deal.
The deal, if finalized, would reportedly have released Shalit in exchange for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, including militants such as Wafa al-Biss – a young woman arrested on the Gaza-Israel border in 2005 with 20 pounds of explosives sewn into her underwear.
But it appears that both Shalit's parents, which this week mark their fourth Passover without their 23-year-old son, and the family of Ms. Biss, who have laid out an array of cosmetics, a hairbrush, and new furniture in anticipation of her return, will continue to wait.
Hamas: The problem is Israel
Hamas leaders in Gaza deny claims of strife within the Islamist movement, which seized control of Gaza after routing its secular rival Fatah from the territory in 2007, saying Israel is to blame for the stalled talks with its “unacceptable offer.”
“The problem is not with us, the key to the end of this deal is with [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu,” says Hamas government spokesman, Taher al-Nounou. “He brought us back to the beginning by refusing certain points we already agreed on.”
“All Hamas leaders want is a happy end to this deal,” Mr. al-Nounou says. “There is no argument inside Hamas over this.”
Shalit was captured in June 2006 in a cross-border raid carried out by Palestinian militants – and has been held as a prisoner in the Gaza Strip by Hamas ever since.
Why lead Hamas negotiator quit
The Palestinian team’s lead negotiator and senior Hamas official, Mahmoud Al-Zahar, said in an interview with the BBC last month that he quit the talks – but said his resignation was due to Israel’s refusal to meet demands.
"As of now the process has failed," Mr. Zahar told the BBC in February. "After the involvement of Benjamin Netanyahu, it appears we have gone one step back."
The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported last month that Zahar quit the talks because of an internal Hamas dispute, which the paper says pitted the more moderate Hamas leaders in Gaza against the head of the movement’s military wing, Ahmed Jabril, and the hard-line leadership based in Damascus, Syria.
The report said the Gaza branch was pushing to accept the terms of the Israeli deal, which sources said would send some of the high-level Palestinian prisoners into exile, but that the Damascus leadership refused.