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Zahhar: Shalit case sensitive for politics, people

Jan. 22, 2011 11:30 A.M. (Updated: Jan. 23, 2011 9:11 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma’an) -- The protest and media fallout in the wake of an Israeli public radio misquote of France's foreign minister shows how sensitive the issue of prisoners is, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahhar said Friday.

The French minister was met with signs telling her to "get out of Gaza," her car was egged and shoes were thrown over a statement which was mistakenly attributed to the official at a meeting with the parents of an Israeli soldier captured by Gaza factions.

The father of the soldier asked Minister Michele Alliot-Marie to press the European Union to "condemn as a war crime" the detention of his son, but Israel's public radio posted a story on its Arabic-language website mistakenly quoting Alliot-Marie as saying the European Union "must condemn the war crime that Hamas is committing by keeping Gilad Shalit in captivity."

Speaking to a Libyan delegation that arrived in Gaza on Friday, Zahhar commented on the incident, saying it showed the sensitivity of the issue, and the need for continued secrecy over the whereabouts of the soldier.

In exchange for the release of the soldier, factions are asking for the release of 1,000 Palestinians from Israeli jails. While negotiations between the factions and Israel continued for some time under the mediation efforts of a German official, they fell through when Israel refused to release dozens of the 450 named detainees, with the other 550 at Israel's discretion.

Israel offered to exile some of the men on the list, an idea refused by the negotiating factions.

For tens of thousands of Palestinians, an exchange deal for the captured soldier is the only hope of seeing their imprisoned loved ones.

Addressing the issue Zahhar said the factions detaining Shalit are "dealing with the case completely secretly" out of necessity.

One of the reasons behind Israel's last offensive on Gaza was given as the retrieval of the captured soldier.

"The occupation's theory of quickly terminating the battle has failed," Zahhar said, and accused Israel of threatening to wage a new war on Gaza in a second attempt to find the soldier.

Zahhar said the resistance in Gaza was prepared for all eventualities, dismissing what he said were rumors that Israel could use nuclear weapons against the coastal enclave.

"Israel can’t attack us with nuclear weapon because that weapon does not differentiate between Green or Yellow lines," the official said.

The Gaza Strip, he said, had "become the front line encountering the occupation," and that not only would resistance brigades continue to defend the area, but the factions holding Shalit would continue to keep him in order to secure the release of what he called thousands of Palestinian prisoners of war that Israel has detained.

Zahhar said the events of Friday showed how sensitive the case of Shalit was, how important to the Palestinian people and how fresh in their minds were their loved ones in Israeli prisons.
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