Hamas: 'Solution is simple: an exchange'

Exiled Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal said on Monday an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian militants would not be freed without a prisoner swap but pledged that his life would be protected.

“There will be no freedom for the Israeli prisoner without an exchange involving Palestinian detainees,” Meshaal, one of Israel’s most wanted men, said at a rare press conference in Damascus.

“They talk about one soldier, we have 10 000 detainees ... this is why we are seeking a prisoner exchange,” he said. “The solution is simple: an exchange.”

But Meshaal, in Israel’s sights over the capture of the soldier in an attack on an army post on the Gaza border on June 25, insisted that the 19-year-old corporal would be kept alive.

“Our values require us to protect his life,” he said.
The soldier was “taken as a prisoner in a clean military operation which targeted Israeli military servicemen and not civilians so the laws of prisoners of war are applicable”.

Israel has repeatedly accused arch-foe Damascus of supporting Palestinian militants behind the abduction and even threatened to kill Hamas leaders based in Syria, including Meshaal.

Meshaal, who escaped a Mossad assassination bid in Amman in 1997, said Hamas was “proud” of the operation that led to the soldier’s capture, although it triggered a massive Israeli offensive on Gaza which has left 42 Palestinians dead.

“The Palestinians will not stop the resistance” until they regain all territories occupied by Israel, he said. “Israel and the United States will not win a compromise from me. I will only be more adamant.”

Meshaal also hailed the Syrian regime for its tough stand against international pressure.

“We thank and praise the positions of Syria, its leadership and particularly President Bashar al-Assad,” he said. “Syria is rejecting pressure because it knows that it is right.”

Israel has repeatedly refused to rule out any negotiations with Hamas or any prisoner swap to secure the release of 19-year-old Gilad Shalit.

“Khaled Meshaal is a terrorist with blood on his hands and he is not a legitimate partner. I will not negotiate with Hamas, I don’t negotiate Hamas and I did not negotiate with Hamas,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Monday.

Recent reports have suggested that Meshaal has blocked mediation efforts to secure the soldier’s release.

But Meshaal said efforts to resolve the crisis involving Egypt, Qatar, Turkey and European countries “have been blocked by Israeli obstinacy”.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has also ordered two envoys to meet with Meshaal and Syrian leaders over the crisis.

Palestine Liberation Organisation executive committee members Taysir Khalid and Abdullah Horani were due to leave on their mission on Monday although it is not clear when their talks will take place. - AFP

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