Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday his government has no intention of teaming up with Shiite group Hizbollah on negotiating the release of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners held by Israel.
Israel launched attacks in Gaza after Palestinian Hamas-linked fighters crossed from Gaza into Israel and captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit on June 25. As that conflict raged, Hizbollah seized two soldiers in a July 12 cross-border raid, sparking Israel’s massive assault on Lebanon.
Hamas, the Islamic group that dominates the Palestinian government, had raised the possibility this week of teaming up with Hizbollah to negotiate terms to release of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners in Israel in exchange for the three Israeli soldiers.
But Abbas said the situations were too different to coordinate a release.
â€œOur brothers in Lebanon have their own special case … and we have our special case,â€ he said following meetings in Alexandria with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
â€œThis is a path and that is another path.â€ Abbas said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had been working with Mubarak in the Hamas case and suggested for the first time that an exchange may not have to happen simultaneously.
â€œThe solution of the captive issue would not be simultaneous,â€ Abbas said. â€œThe [Israeli] captive will be released in return for freeing a number of Palestinian prisoners with specified standards.â€
Abbas added the deal had to include an unspecified number of women, children, the sick, the elderly and people who have spent longer than 15 to 20 years in prison.
â€œWe don’t want the Israelis to do what they had done before … when they released 400 people, most of them had their sentences expired,â€ he said.
Abbas later met Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah in Jeddah.
A Saudi foreign ministry official said Abbas talked about â€œthe steps that have been taken to solve the problem of the abducted Israeli soldier.â€ The official did not elaborate and spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to discuss such matters.
Earlier this month, Mubarak said he had â€œreached a solutionâ€ for the release of the Israeli soldier being held by militants linked to Hamas that had been accepted, but then scuttled by Hamas after it came under pressure from â€œother partiesâ€ â€” an apparent reference to Syria. At that time, Hamas had said the exchange of prisoners must be simultaneous.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel was sticking with its demand for the unconditional release of Shalit.
â€œThe opinion of the Israeli government is… that hostages must be released unconditionally,â€ Regev said.
He called Abbas’ statements in Alexandria â€œvery guarded.â€ â€œWe have no problem with what Abbas said, haven’t from the beginning,â€ he said.
Meanwhile, an Israeli undercover unit searching for fighters shot dead a Palestinian in the West Bank city of Nablus on Saturday, Palestinian medics and witnesses said.
The witnesses said the troops opened fire at a group of Palestinians and that it was unclear whether they were armed. An Israeli army spokeswoman said she was checking the report.
Another Palestinian, a member of the Islamic Jihad group, was shot in the head and died later, medics said.
Witnesses said the Israelis used guns with silencers to shoot the group and then left the area.