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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Meshal: Israel is to blame for lack of progress on Shalit deal

Last update - 13:32 25/11/2006

Meshal: Israel is to blame for lack of progress on Shalit deal

By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent, Haaretz Service and Agencies

Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal said Saturday his group was willing to
give peace negotiations six months to reach an agreement for a Palestinian
state in Gaza and the West Bank, but threatened a new uprising if talks fail.

Meshal was meeting with Egyptian officials who have been acting as
intermediaries on the crisis over kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and
on the formation of a Palestinian unity government by Hamas and Fatah.

"We give six months to open real political horizons ... we agreed on the
national accord to establish a Palestinian state, with the June 4, 1967
borders," he said. "They have to seize this opportunity.

He warned that if an agreement is not reached within that time, "Hamas will
become stronger and the resistance will resume ... and will go on with a third

Also on Saturday, Meshal blamed Israel for the lack of progress on a deal that
would broker a prisoner swap to free an Israel Defense Forces soldier captured
by Hamas militants in June.

"We are not the reason behind postponing the decision; the postponing of a
settlement is due to the other side," Meshal said of efforts to agree on a
prisoner swap that would exchange Shalit for some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners
in Israeli jails.

But the exiled Hamas leader, who lives in Syria, was more upbeat on the
prospects for an agreement on a unity government with Fatah, saying that "good
strides" had been made, but "more time" would be needed.

Meshal said in an interview published Friday in the Saudi Arabian newspaper
Al-Watan that if Israel adopts serious measures to release teenage and female
prisoners, he will see it as proof of its good intentions regarding a deal on
Shalit's release.

Meshal arrived in Cairo late Thursday for talks with the head of Egyptian
intelligence, Omar Suleiman, on Shalit and the Palestinian unity government.

Both sides said after the talks that they had held a "positive discussion."

Meshal arrived in Cairo as head of an envoy of senior members from the Hamas
Damascus branch, including Imad al-Alami, head of the Damascus bureau and
Mohammad Nasser, a member of the Hamas Policy Bureau.

His visit was planned for the end of last October, but was postponed for
unknown reasons. Arab media outlets speculated that Meshal's arrival in Cairo
signals that Hamas is ready to negotiate on the issue of Shalit's release,
with Egypt brokering a potential deal.

This week, a senior source involved with Hamas-Israel negotiations said there
had been progress regarding Shalit, and that there were expectations that a
deal securing Shalit's release could be reached by the Eid ul-Adha holiday at
the end of December.

Meshal's visit also included discussions with former Egyptian foreign minister
Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League. According to sources, Meshal also
planned to meet with the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Mohammed
Mehadi al Mahdy Akef.

On Friday, Israel said it wants Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets
on the Negev before it ends its operations in the Gaza Strip, rejecting
Palestinian demands that Israel take the first step to institute a partial
lull in violence.

Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Fatah have offered to stop firing Qassam rockets on
Israel if the IDF first ceases its operations in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian
Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said Friday.

He said the Qassam fire at Israel could give the perception that the
Palestinians are armed, and it would be preferable for them to appear weak
opposite "Israeli aggression." However, he said the Palestinians would not
stop their attacks until Israel does.

Government spokeswoman Miri Eisin responded to the proposal by saying Israel
would only stop its actions after militants laid down their weapons.

"Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups have chosen to fire rockets into Israel
day in and day out," Eisin said. "Israel will continue to defend its citizens
against the rockets and will only stop its actions once those who fire, store
and make the rockets and those who smuggle in their components cease their

In addition, IDF sources told Israel Radio on Friday that military activity in
the Gaza Strip will continue, and even intensify, in an effort to move the
Qassam cells to areas that are less convenient for firing rockets at Israel.

Labor Party secretary-general Eitan Cabel, however, said he would be glad to
accept a deal that could lead to a cease-fire. Last year's disengagement from
the Gaza Strip was meant to put a halt to the hostility and killing in the
area, he noted.

"If this could lead to a cease-fire, I would be very happy for it to happen,"
Cabel told Israel Radio.

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