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Israeli Minister Suggests Prisoner Swap with Hamas

Israel’s Public Security Minister, Avi Dichter, suggested that Israel ‘might free Palestinians’ in return for Galid Shalit, a comment which has intensified debate on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over the captured soldier and on Operation Summer Rains. But it has been stated that simply returning Gilad Shalit unharmed will not end the operation in Gaza, as the persistent and incessant Qassam rocket attacks on Israeli towns has also been made a centerpiece grievance by Israel.

However, immediately following the report of Dichter’s vision of a “goodwill gesture,” Hamas has rejected the Israeli’s hint of a deal. Elected Hamas parliamentarian Mushir al-Masri told Reuters in an interview, “Our people have no faith in goodwill gestures. There is no talk at the moment about the missing soldier. We are talking about 30 Palestinian martyrs and 100 wounded in an Israeli military aggression against our people.”

As the two respective governmental subordinates seemingly spar with words, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Hamas’ PA Prime Minister Haniyeh appear to be quietly observing from the side.

Prior to the new Hamas rejection of the potential prisoner swap suggestion, Hamas had amended their original demands of the release of nearly 1,500 Palestinians in Israeli prisons. The release of women has been portrayed by Hamas and others with a humanitarian angle, though the imprisoned include many female suicide bombers that have been apprehended by Israel.

Yet, from one Hamas source cited by the Financial Times, not only was the release of all female prisoners on the table, but also now “some 20 men serving long sentences.” If they are serving long sentences they are either convicted terrorist leaders or operators. Precisely who these “some 20 men” are remains unclear. But what should be quite clear is why Hamas would want currently imprisoned terrorist leaders and operators. Just as the informal cease-fire was utilized by Hamas train and re-arm, this deal would not be for peace or settlement. Rather, it would clearly be for the purposes of recovery and enhancement of Hamas’ terrorist operations.

Also preceding Friday’s talk of Israel’s potential openness to an exchange of prisoners, Hamas’ own PA Interior Minister, Saeed Seyam ordered the Palestinian Authority security forces under his charge to take up arms against the Israeli forces in the Palestinian Territories in what has been called an open declaration of war by Hamas on Israel. Seyam declared to the members of the security forces it is their “religious and moral duty to stand up to this aggression and cowardly Zionist invasion.”

But the orders are likely not intended as an offensive, but rather to fend off Israeli forces closing in from both the north and the south. With the Hamas members of the Palestinian Authority effectively underground now in central Gaza, the Hamas interior minister is likely issuing the orders to engage the IDF for the protection of himself and his fellow Hamas ministers in hiding.

Technically, as interior minister, Seyam is in charge of the whole of the PA’s security forces with the exception of Abbas’ presidential security forces. But the majority of the PA security forces are Fatah, still in place since the PLO rule of Yassir Arafat, and they remain loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. They would likely heed such a call to arms only with the tacit approval of Abbas.

This is the same Saeed Sayem who, upon his appointment as interior minister, vowed to protect Palestinian terrorists. He said bluntly, “The day will never come when any Palestinian would be arrested because of his political affiliation or because of resisting the occupation. Saeed Seyam did not come to the government to revive any security cooperation or to protect the occupation and their settlers. I came to protect our people and their fighters, to protect their trees, their properties and their capabilities.”

Seemingly upping the ante for both Israel and the world, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad referred to an “explosion in the Islamic world” while speaking at a Tehran protest over the Israeli operations in Gaza. “They should not let things reach a point where an explosion occurs in the Islamic world. If an explosion occurs, then it will not be limited to geographical boundaries. It will also burn all those who created [Israel] over the past 60 years.”

While the rhetoric flies back and forth, harsher from one side and seemingly more conciliatory from the other, the situation is clearly getting tenser. Yet still, Israel has begun pulling troops from southern Gaza. They will remain nearby for frequent raids back into the area as needed but will not occupy the area. This may serve to lessen tensions some in the south. But to the north, where some IDF forces are reported as far as 12km into the Gaza Strip, expect the IDF to remain in force for at least a couple of kilometers to serve as a buffer to push back the Qassam launch points beyond reach of Ashkelon.