GAZA CITY, Feb 17, 2009 – Hamas on Monday insisted it would not discuss releasing captured Israel soldier Gilad Shalit as part negotiations with Israel for a lasting truce in and around the Gaza Strip.
A Hamas delegation told this in Cairo on Monday to Omar Suleiman, the head of Egypt’s intelligence services who is mediating between Israel and the Islamist movement, said Taher al-Nunu, a spokesman for the Hamas government in Gaza.
“The delegation made it clear to Suleiman it rejects any linkage of the truce question and that of the release of the soldier Gilad Shalit,” Nunu said in a statement.
“We blame Israel for preventing the implementation of the truce … and we reject blackmail attempts by Israel,” he added.
Israel has linked a truce agreement to the release of Shalit, who has been held in Gaza since he was seized in a cross-border raid by Palestinian militants in June 2006.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday said Shalit’s release took priority over any other consideration in the negotiations for a lasting ceasefire.
Nunu said that the Hamas delegation in Egypt on Sunday reached “a clear agreement on the truce” but that Israel “raised the question of Gilad Shalit at the last minute in a bid to include it in the accord.”
Hamas insists it will only release Shalit in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli jails.