A Hamas official has leaked details about a historic prisoner swap deal with Israel that will see 1,027 Palestinian prisoners released in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by the group in 2006.
The official said on Thursday that out of the 450 Palestinian prisoners to be released in the first phase of the exchange, about 272 will be allowed to return to their homes in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and Israel.
The remaining 178 are likely to be deported to third countries or the Gaza Strip, if they are not from that territory.
The deportations will be a blow to the prisoners’ families, many of whom have waited decades to see their loved ones return home.
The Hamas official, who provided the figures, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to release them.
A senior Palestinian official in the West Bank, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the first group of 450 Palestinian prisoners will be released on Tuesday.
He said that he expected Shalit would arrive in Israel on Wednesday after being transferred from Gaza to Egypt via the Rafah crossing and then flown home.
The Israeli justice department said a list of Palestinian prisoners to be released in exchange for Shalit will be published on Sunday, and that the Israeli public would have 48 hours to raise any legal challenges.
Question of timing
Riyad al-Malki, the Palestinian Authority (PA) foreign minister, called into question the timing of the prisoner exchange, suggesting Hamas and Israel might have worked together to embarrass the PA.
In an interview with France 24 television on Thursday, Malki said: “We’re happy to see 1,027 are released.”
Preparing for Palestinian prisoners’ homecoming
“We were very much disappointed that part of them will be transferred to Gaza and will not stay in their homes with their families in the West Bank, and other parties will also be deported outside.
“We are very much disappointed in this part of the deal because we don’t want to see any Palestinian being deported from his own territory by a decision taken by his own people.
“In this case Hamas has taken a decision to agree on the deportation of so many people outside their homes in the West Bank and outside of their homes in Palestine as a whole,” he said.
Malki also alleged that the deal was linked to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ demand last month that the UN recognise Palestine as a state, which has been very popular among his people.
Abbas has seen his support surge on the back of his campaign to win UN recognition for a state of Palestine, and Malki said he suspected that the long-awaited deal was designed to steal his limelight.
“Of course, when the popularity of President Abbas has been rising that high after his speech in the General Assembly delivering our application, one has to question the timing,” he said.
“Is it really intended to boost the popularity of the Israeli government and Hamas vis-a-vis the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas? That’s a really legitimate question to be asked.”
Hamas’ Khaled Meshaal met with Morad Mowafi, Egypt’s intelligence chief, in Cairo on Thursday to discuss logistics related to the swap.
Egyptian state television reported that Meshaal also thanked Egypt for its role in the “intense negotiations … which led to this historic success for the [Palestinian] resistance”.
Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, formally apologised to Egypt on Wednesday for the killing of six Egyptian police officers during a cross-border shootout with gunmen suspected of carrying out deadly attacks in Israel.
The apology came after a joint Israeli-Egyptian investigation concluded, and one day after Egypt helped broker the release of Gilad Shalit.
Mohamed Amr, Egypt’s foreign minister, said on Wednesday that Israel expressed “deep regret and apology” and issued condolences to the families of the police officers shot by Israeli security forces along its shared border in August.
The incident sparked a diplomatic spat between the two countries.
Barak said in a statement that the people who killed eight Israelis prior to the shootout had “intended to murder Israeli civilians and ruin the peaceful relations between Israel and Egypt”.