Gaza City, March 19 – The armed branch of Hamas blamed Israel on Wednesday for the collapse of prisoner swap talks and warned it could hike its demands in return for freeing a soldier captured almost three years ago.
“We put the entire responsibility for blocking a deal on the enemy government,” Ezzedine Al-Qassam said in a statement.
“If we have to change our position, it will be to increase our demands and not the other way around,” it said.
The statement came a day after Israel’s outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the Jewish state would not accept terms Hamas set for a prisoner swap, saying the Islamists had hardened their stance and made extreme demands in the last days of the Egyptian-brokered negotiations.
“We have been generous in our conditions and we will not free other prisoners than those we agreed to release,” Olmert said on Tuesday.
“In the name of the state of Israel and its government, I declare that there are red lines that we will not cross. We will not cave in to the demands of a terrorist group.”
Two main disputes apparently sank the deal — the number of Palestinians Israel would free in return for its soldier Gilad Shalit, seized by Gaza militants in June 2006, and how many of them would be allowed to return to their homes in the occupied West Bank.
Israel said it agreed to release 320 of 450 Palestinians Hamas wants freed including some responsible for attacks that killed Israelis, something that Israel normally refuses to do.
Egypt has been brokering efforts to reach a deal between Israel and Hamas, which the Jewish state, along with the West, boycotts as a terrorist group.