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Prisoners Swap Expected


Several thousand Palestinians gathered outside the Red Cross office in Gaza on16/04/2007 to call for the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons. The Palestinians‘ annual Prisoners Day this year falls on theApril 17. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said Monday that Fatah militant leader Marwan Barghouti does appear on the list of prisoners the Palestinians want freed by Israel in return for the release of an Israel Defense Forces soldier held captive since June. Haniyeh‘s comments came after his deputy, Azzam al-Ahmad of Fatah, said earlier this week that Barghouti‘s name would not be included on the list presented to Israel.

Israel has said it will not free Barghouti, who is serving five consecutive life terms for his role in shooting attacks that killed five people - four Israelis and a Greek monk.
Hamas, meanwhile, issued a statement to reporters Monday in support of capturing IDF soldiers in order to use them as bargaining chips in negotiating the release of Palestinian prisoners. "We believe that kidnapping soldiers and exchanging them for prisoners is the best solution for releasing our heroes, after the failure of all the diplomatic channels."

Fatah‘s armed wing also urged its members Monday to kidnap Israelis to swap them for Palestinians held in Israeli jails. Blaming the Israeli enemy for the failure to release prisoners, a statement faxed to the media issued "an open call for all our fighters to concentrate on kidnapping Israeli soldiers and civilians."

The rally came as negotiations continued for a prisoner swap in return for Israeli soldier who was captured by Hamas-linked militants last June. The captors have demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinians, including prisoners convicted for the murders of Israelis. Haniyeh assured the crowd that the list of prisoners Hamas is demanding from Israel includes "all our people from all the factions."

According to recent statistics from the human rights group B‘Tselem, there are currently 9,250 Palestinians in Israeli jails.

 Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has expressed disappointment over names on the list, but has not ruled out a deal. Olmert said he was open to a reasonable exchange of Palestinian prisoners in return for captured Israel Forces soldier, but he said the Palestinians‘ demands are too high. On the prisoner issue, Olmert declined to say how many Palestinians that Israel would be willing to exchange of the soldier abducted last June after Hamas-linked militants tunneled under the Israel-Gaza border and attacked an Israeli army base, killing two other soldiers.

Olmert earlier expressed disappointment with the list of prisoners Israel recently received from the captors, but had neither rejected it outright nor signaled a willingness to exchange large numbers of prisoners. In the past, Israel has released hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in return for small numbers of its citizens.

Israeli currently holds 9,221 Palestinian prisoners, according to the Prisons Authority. Many are held on security offenses, ranging from stone-throwing to plotting suicide bombings. Olmert has said the release of the soldier remains an obstacle to progress in peace talks with the Palestinians.

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