Envoy says Israeli soldier could be exchanged for 600 Palestinian prisoners
PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT Mahmoud Abbas said on Thursday armed groups had agreed to stop firing rockets into Israel from Gaza, but fighters said such a move would be dependent on Israel halting its offensive.
â€œYesterday all factions met and agreed on calm and stopping all actions that may give others a pretext to attack us,â€ Abbas said in a speech at a graduation ceremony for 500 new recruits to his presidential security force.
Israel, which pulled out of the Gaza Strip a year ago, has been carrying out ground and air attacks in the territory in a bid to stop cross-border rocket fire and to press for the release of an Israeli soldier abducted by fighters in June.
Israel has rejected demands for the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners in return for the safe return of Corporal Gilad Shalit. About 180 Palestinians, nearly half of them civilians, have been killed in the Israeli military offensive.
His father, Noam, told Israeli television yesterday that Israel was ready in principle to free Palestinian prisoners in exchange forÂ Â the soldier.
â€œWe spoke with the Prime Minister [Ehud Olmert] and in principle the government is ready for a release. But before any of that can happen, we need to have proof that Gilad is still alive,â€ Shalit told the privately run Channel 2.
And in Moscow, the Palestinian Authorityâ€™s diplomatic envoy said the Israeli could be freed in exchange for 600 Palestinian prisoners.
The envoy, Baker Abdel Munem, told ITAR-TASS news agency there was a possibility of â€œfreeing Corporal Gilad Shalit in the coming daysâ€.
He said he did not rule out that â€œthe Israeli serviceman will be freed in exchange for 600 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jailsâ€.
â€œThe events of the last two months have shown that military force cannot solve problems,â€ he added.
Khader Habib, a political leader of the Islamic Jihad group, said there had been a â€œgeneral tendencyâ€ among most of the factions that attended Wednesdayâ€™s meeting with Abbas to halt rocket attacks.
He said that while Islamic Jihad would not be part of any formal deal to cease firing rockets, the group would not violate any agreement reached by other factions to stop the attacks.
A Palestinian official close to the talks said factions would not necessarily announce a ceasefire deal but would likely halt their attacks if Israel did the same.
The governing Hamas movement, which like Islamic Jihad is dedicated to Israelâ€™s destruction, said calm would depend on Israel halting its own attacks in the Palestinian territories.
â€œIf aggression against the Palestinian people stops, this will contribute to restoring the calm that preceded the start of aggression by the occupation, said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, using its name for Israel.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), whose armed wing has taken part in rocket attacks from Gaza, said it would not bend to US or Israeli pressure and had rejected the idea of halting the strikes.
In violence in the Gaza Strip, Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian who the army said had approached the border fence carrying a bag with wires protruding from it and ignored warning fire. Palestinian security officials said he was a civilian.
In his speech, Abbas said the Palestinians were putting together a plan to be presented to the United Nations to try to revive the stalled peace process. He gave no details about the plan but said he was working on it with Arab states.
He also echoed demands by groups holding Shalit for Israel to release prisoners and said the world must not forget their plight.
â€œWhen they talk about the issue of the soldier â€” a humanitarian issue â€” they must remember thousands of Palestinians are in jail. They [include] women, the sick, the elderly and children. They are human and they deserve humanitarian action,â€ Abbas said.
He also urged the international community to refocus attention on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict now that a UN-brokered truce had ended more than a month of fighting between Israel and the Lebanese group Hizbollah.
â€œWe also want to get rid of the aggression which started before [Lebanon war] and is continuing. We want this aggression to end,â€ Abbas said, hailing â€œthe resistance of the Lebanese people, who stood firm to protect their homeland.
Meanwhile, a senior official from Hamas said Thursday that Israel had plans to assassinate the groupâ€™s Damascus-based chief.
Mohammad Nazal, a member of Hamasâ€™ politburo, told the Associated Press that hisÂ group had â€œreceived a lot of information about activities by the external Israeli security intelligence service [the Mossad] to target Khaled Mishaal.â€
â€œBut the attempt had not entered the implementation stage,â€ Nazal added.
Media reports have said that several Mossad agents arrived in Damascus in mid-July during the Israeli military offensive on Lebanon disguised as foreign relief volunteers in a bid to assassinate Mishaal. Syria has not commented on the reports.
Israel suggested it could assassinate Mishaal after the capture of Shalit.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev declined comment on the assassination claims on Thursday.
Mishaal has survived a previous Israeli assassination attempt in Jordan in 1997. Two Mossad agents injected the Hamas leader with poison, but were caught. As Mishaal lay in a Jordanian hospital, King Hussein forced Israel to provide the antidote in return for the release of the Mossad agents.