Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Swap talks over, Hamas official says

Bethlehem – Ma'an – Hamas leader Mahmoud Az-Zahar said on Tuesday that negotiations for a prisoner swap deal between the Islamic movement and Israel have stopped.

"As regarding negotiations, as of now the process has failed," he said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp.

"The main cause, well known to everybody, well known to the mediator, that after the interference of the political element, after the appearance of [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu personally, there was a big regression and retraction. For this reason negotiations have now stopped," he added.

Az-Zahhar added: "We are looking to set free our people and also to give a chance for the family of the Israeli soldier to live as a human being also. We demanded a considerable number of prisoners, but the Israeli side, after hundreds of rounds of talks, reached backward too much."

Earlier Tuesday, a Hamas official said that talks were halted as a result of the alleged assassination of a military wing co-founder, Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, in Dubai.

That official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the Saudi daily Ukath that the 20 January assassination, allegedly carried out by agents of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency, thwarted talks aimed at securing the release of some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a captured Israeli soldier.

Hamas claims an Israeli assassination squad killed Al-Mabhouh, although the Islamic movement's armed wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, originally told Ma'an two weeks ago that the official died of terminal cancer.

The Hamas source vowed that the Dubai incident would not have the desired effect, and added that it was a "cowardly move meant to punish Hamas for its firm stance on the prisoner swap deal."