Stalemate in Prisoner Exchange Talks

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Three months have passed since Hamas, the Palestinian faction controlling the Gaza Strip, responded to Israel on a prisoner exchange for captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

Hamas terrorists abducted Shalit on June 25, 2006, in a cross-border attack on an Israel Defense Forces outpost near the Kerem Shalom crossing with the Gaza Strip. Two soldiers were killed and three wounded by the terror cell, which tunneled under the security fence to reach the base.

"Three months have gone by and we haven't received a response from Hamas," Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday.

"We will release murderers, but not to any location," he said.

"We told him [the German mediator] we are willing to release prisoners to bring Gilad home safe and sound, but in such a way that the problems with the [Ahmad] Jibril and [Elhanan] Tannenbaum deals won't be repeated when the released prisoners murder Israelis afterward," he said.

"The [Palestinians] released in the Jibril deal were involved in the murder of more 100 Israelis. One of the prisoners released in the Tannenbaum deal was involved in the murder of a rabbi, the father of seven," Netanyahu said.

"We will not agree for dangerous prisoners to be released to places that put Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or Ra'anana within easy reach. They will be released to bring back Gilad, but not to places from which it is easy to embark on murders," he said.

Al-Zahar Steps Down

Senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar, 64, told Germany's Der Spiegel weekly that he would no longer participate in the negotiations for Shalit.

The agreement was ready for signatures before Christmas, according to al-Zahar, who said he had convinced Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal in Damascus to accept Israel's offer. In the end, both parties backed out, which damaged his standing with Hamas.

"I am not willing to lead negotiations anymore," al-Zahar said. "I have suffered a lot internally," he said.

He denied a recent report in the Israeli daily Haaretz, which claimed he'd been dropped as lead negotiator by Mashaal and Ahmed Jabari, head of Hamas' Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades

Meanwhile, the London-based Arabic language daily al-Quds al-Arabi  reported on Tuesday that Hamas is ready to sign an Egyptian-brokered agreement with Fatah.

According to the report, Egypt will incorporate certain stipulations by Hamas in exchange for a promise to resolve the prisoner exchange for Shalit.

Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman tried unsuccessfully to reach an agreement on the prisoner exchange. Germany's foreign intelligence agency, which stepped in as mediator, said they too had reached an impasse.

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YNet news contributed to this report.

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