Hamas blames Israel for breakdown in Schalit talks

AP News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2009 2:28 PM

Israeli intransigence caused a breakdown in negotiations to release an Israeli soldier held by the militant Palestinian group Hamas, its leader said Tuesday.

Speaking in the Iranian capital of Tehran, Khaled Mashaal said the Israelis have no choice but to free the Palestinian prisoners Hamas wants if it ever wants to see Sgt. Gilad Schalit again.

"Israeli stubbornness is disrupting the process," he said at a press conference following meetings with the Iranian leaders.

"The Israeli leadership, (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu and his team, have no choice except to meet our demands concerning the number of Palestinian prisoners who will be released, they know very well that Schalit won't be with them except for this way."

Hamas and Israel have been negotiating through German and Egyptian mediators to exchange hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for Schalit, who was captured in 2006.

A few weeks ago a breakthrough seemed imminent, but a deal never materialized, reportedly due to Israeli objections to certain names on the Palestinian list.

Mashaal added that resistance was the only way of dealing with Israel, which it said was not serious about peace negotiations.

He also thanked Iran for backing the Palestinian cause, but declined to comment about whether that support included weapons.

If Israel attacked Iran's nuclear sites, Mashaal said Hamas would be an ally to Tehran. "Each of us will confront the enemy in his own front based on its capabilities," he said without elaborating.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel does not comment on the negotiations to free Schalit, but he also told The Associated Press, "No one should find it surprising that the Hamas leader is considered a desired guest in Tehran. The regime in Gaza and the regime in Tehran share the same fanatical theology."

In the past, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for the destruction of Israel.

Mashaal also met Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who supported Hamas saying "resistance is the only way to save Palestine."

The Hamas leader emphasized the importance reconciliation among the divided Palestinian factions to confront Israel.

The Palestinians are split between Hamas, which rules in the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement, which controls the West Bank.

Mashaal said he was open to reconciliation, but called the current Palestinian central committee "illegitimate" because it had not been chosen through elections.

Talks between the Palestinian factions have repeatedly foundered and this week, Abbas' security forces rounded up more than a 100 Hamas activists in the West Bank, making progress on reconciliation even more unlikely.