Hamas blames Israel for collapse of talks

Feb. 3, 2010 at 2:57 PM

TEL AVIV, Israel, Feb. 3 (UPI) -- A senior Hamas official has warned that talks with Israel over a prisoner exchange to free a captured Israeli soldier have collapsed.

Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar, one of the group's founders, told the BBC that talks to swap hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit had collapsed because of Israeli Prime Minister Binjamin Netanyahu's interference.

"After the interference of Netanyahu personally, there was a big regression and retraction, for this everything now has stopped," he told the BBC.

Germany and Egypt had in the past tried to mediate a prisoner swap since Palestinian militants in southern Israel captured 23-year-old Shalit in 2006. Israel holds around 10,000 Palestinians in its jails, and Hamas is eager to free hundreds of them, including senior leaders.

Yet Zahar said the prospects for a successful prisoner swap are uncertain.

"We are looking to set free our people ... and also to give a chance for the family of the Israeli soldier to live as a human being also," he told the BBC. "We demanded a considerable number, legal number (of prisoners) … but the Israeli side … after 100 of rounds (of talks), they reached backward too much, for this reason, everything stopped."

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