PALESTINIAN leaders called on factions responsible for capturing Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit to resist ‘Israeli pressure tactics’ aimed at forcing them to drop their demands.
The remarks came at the opening event at a protest tent set up for Palestinian prisoners and amid calls for supporting Shalit’s captors and their conditions for a proposed prisoner swap.
The event took place in the main square at the Prisoners Ministry in Gaza City.
The minister of Prisoners Affairs, Mohammad Faraj Al-Ghoul, called on the factions holding Shalit to ‘tighten their hands and minds’ regarding their demands, insisting that ‘Israel is the one responsible for aborting the swap deal and is trying to press the factions by detaining Hamas members and placing insane prisoners within their confinements.’
The remarks over ‘insane prisoners’ were related to Israeli prison officials placing criminally insane prisoners in solitary confinement cells alongside Hamas men detained in Israeli institutions, a practice that came to light on Saturday.
According to a media spokesperson with the Wa’ed Society for Prisoners and Ex-Detainees, the practice is Israel’s latest tactic to push the prisoner-swap issue and secure the release of Gilad Shalit.
‘This is an expected action,’ the spokesperson said in a statement, ‘especially after the Israeli government aborted the swap deal.’
Meanwhile, the de facto Prisoners Affairs minister called on the international community to help free the 11,000 Palestinian prisoners still in Israeli jails.
For his part, prominent Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib called on Shalit’s captors ‘not to give up and to resist Israeli tactics.’
Meanwhile a senior Fatah member said on Sunday that the movement has not yet decided on a date for renewed talks aimed at establishing a Palestinian unity government.
However the official, Ibrahim Abu An-Naja, a member of the Fatah movement’s delegation to Cairo’s Higher Committee, said he expected talks to resume sometime before the end of March.
Abu An-Naja pointed out that there are a number of controversial points waiting to be solved by the Higher Committee regarding the Palestine Liberation Organization and legislative elections, as well as the restructuring of Palestine’s security services.
The Fatah representative warned against wrapping up talks without making a final decision on the decisive issues, saying that it would be a ‘great loss’ and would make certain that ‘there won’t be any lift to the siege’ on Gaza or a rebuilding of the besieged coastal strip.
Earlier this week, delegates were growing concerned over the failure of the first round of Cairo talks, but were optimistic that a second round will resume shortly.
Head of Fatah’s delegation to the Cairo committee talks expressed concern over the recent stumble, but said he did not rule out a resumption of discussions in the coming week.
Azam Al-Ahmad, who is also head of the Fatah bloc in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), said last Thursday that parties were unable to solve the major areas of dispute between the rival factions Hamas and Fatah.
l Meanwhile, Hamas government head Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya said Hamas also hopes to work toward Palestinian unity.
He announced last Sunday that Hamas will remain committed to the ideals of its late founder, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
Speaking on the anniversary of Yassin’s death, Haniya echoed the late Hamas leader’s own remarks, saying he also hopes to ‘bring back the land and the unity and the return of Palestinian refugees.’
Yassin was assassinated by an Israeli helicopter pilot in 2004, along with nine Palestinian bystanders.
In the speech, Haniya stressed that the Hamas movement will work toward the restoration of national unity and the success of the Palestinian national dialogue ongoing in Cairo, ‘to fulfil the Palestinians’ needs.’
He insisted on the need to hold onto what was reached in the Cairo dialogue in order to resolve other controversial issues.
Regarding the fate of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Haniya insisted that Israel is responsible for the failure of the prisoner swap, saying, ‘Because of Israel’s inflexibility the negotiations failed but we will work for a better deal to reach an agreement regarding this case.’
Haniya praised the efforts made by Arab states to increase Arab solidarity with Palestinians.
Haniya described the Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip as inhuman, calling on the Americans to be just in pressuring Israel to open the crossings.
• Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak prevented the demolition of settler homes built on Palestinian land, it has emerged from the state’s response to a High Court petition filed on behalf of the Palestinian residents.
Five settlers of the Ein Yabrud village had previously filed the petition in June 2008 through attorneys Michael Sfard and Shlomi Zacharia against the defence minister and Israeli army Central Command chief, Major-General Gadi Shamni. They demanded that Barak, Shamni and other officials enforce stop-work orders and halt the issue of demolition orders for nine structures built as part of the settlement of Ofra.
A month after the petition was filed, the High Court of Justice issued an interim order instructing Israel not to populate the buildings, and to avoid any further construction.
The state claims that in December 2008 the defence minister himself was the one to instruct that the demolition orders, issued by his office, not be carried out. ‘In this matter the defence minister factored in that the issues regarding these nine structures are true for many houses in Ofra,’ the state wrote in its response.
‘Since these homes were populated months ago, and since these are homes that are inside the community itself and not on its outskirts, the larger picture about all of Ofra must be reviewed.’