Rumors about imminent Israeli-Hamas prisoner swap deal are premature

Despite a spate of leaks this morning, all indications are, now, that the reports of an imminent prisoner swap involving a deal to free IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit — held somewhere in Gaza since late June 2006 — are completely premature.

One good source in Ramallah says maybe next week something will happen… An answer is awaited from Israel, he says.

There is still a debate over 125 to 150 of the 450 names that Hamas has submitted, in an exchange that is supposed to involve the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Hamas has not specified the names of the other 550 prisoners who must be released. Israel can decide who they will be — out of the more-than-6000 prisoners Israel is holding — but they must be in categories chosen by Hamas, such as children, oldest or longest-held prisoners, and women etc.

Of the 125 or 150 names under active debate, a “small number” (it is not clear if it would be as many as 40) will probably be deported.

Hamas is trying to limit the number of those to be deported, but it apparently agrees in principle — even though deportation [carried out by Israel] is a specific violation of Phase One of the Road Map.

In this case, it is very convenient that Hamas is not yet a member of the PLO and not bound by its prior agreements, so it is not bound by the Road Map…

One further enabling excuse is, apparently, concern that some prisoners may be in danger (from Israel) if they are released here, and would be safer if deported to Arab countries or possibly Turkey. This is a strange excuse, however, as Israel is known to have long arms, and a long reach…

But, it is of note that the Israeli Minister of Homeland Security, Matan Vilnai said at one of the wildly-popular Jerusalem Day events yesterday that, according to the Jerusalem Post, “[Hamas Prime Minister Ismail] Haniyeh and the Hamas chief of staff don’t know where Gilad is being held. A group is holding him, and it knows,” he said. ‘Many of them are no longer with us. [They are] unfortunate ones, all sorts of accidents [are befalling them]’, Vilnai added”…

Wouldn’t that scare people into realizing that if a deal is not concluded soon, Shalit could simply get lost in some terrible solitary room somewhere, that nobody would know his whereabouts, and that he would become un-findable?

The same article then appears to be paving the ground for a big prisoner swap by reporting: “The minister also said that if Israel lacked ‘the ability to get him out, a big price must be paid, involving the release of major murderers, to retrieve him’. Last week, recently retired IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Gabi Ashkenazi publicly stated that Israel did not know where Schalit is being kept, adding that the IDF was unable to secure his release through a rescue operation”. This article is posted here.

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