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Hamas official discusses internal elections, prisoner swap deal in interview with Ma'an

Sept. 14, 2016 8:26 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 17, 2016 3:33 P.M.)
(File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The Hamas-movement is planning on holding internal elections during the first half of 2017, Hamas official Ahmad Youssef said in an interview with Ma’an on Tuesday, during which he also discussed canceled Palestinian municipal elections and the case of a potential Hamas-Israel prisoner release deal.

Youssef, a former senior adviser to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, told Ma’an that elections for the movement’s politburo would be held in March or April, adding that after elections for each area were done, Hamas would gather to elect a new head for the politburo.

However, he said that it was “too soon to expect who would be head of the politburo following Khalid Mashaal.”

Hamas holds internal elections every four years.

Regarding Palestinian municipal elections, which were canceled by the Palestinian Supreme Court on Thursday after having originally been set for Oct. 8, Youssef said that there were “Arab pressures” to postpone the elections.

The decision was made after a court in the Gaza Strip dropped five Fatah-affiliated candidates from participating in the local elections in the besieged enclave, a source from the Supreme Court told Ma’an. The Fatah-controlled Supreme Court said the decision was in response to several appeals submitted by lawyers challenging the legitimacy of elections that would not include East Jerusalem, while calling elections in the Gaza Strip “illegal.”

Youssef said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was the one to announce elections and then postpone them, despite the fact, he said, that the Palestinian public wanted elections and that most factions approved.

“Decisions are taken individually; we hope to see a change and that the elections will be a start for ending division,” he added.

Regarding the issue of Israelis held in the besieged Gaza Strip, Youssef told Ma’an that the issue was in the hands of of the Hamas movement’s military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

The two Israeli soldiers at the center of prisoner negotiations, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, were pronounced dead during the 2014 war, as Hamas later claimed to be holding their bodies.

Israeli citizens Avera Mengistu and Bedouin Hisham al-Sayed are also believed to be alive and held captive by Hamas in Gaza.

“Unlike the (2011) Gilad Shalit deal when there were efforts by the movement’s politburo, they (al-Qassam) are the decision-makers now,” Youssef said.

He added that the al-Qassam Brigades insisted that Israel release all prisoners who were freed as part of the Shalit deal but have since been redetained, before starting talks in a new prisoner swap deal.

Meanwhile, Youssef told Ma’an that Algeria had accepted a request by the movement’s politburo member, Moussa Abu Marzouq, to officially open a bureau for the movement in the North African country, allowing the movement to have an official presence there.

Youssef praised Algeria’s stands supporting Palestinians saying that “Algeria’s doors have always been open for the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) and Palestinian factions.”

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