JERUSALEM (JTA) – Hamas tried to start secret talks with Israel before its military operation in Gaza, a British newspaper reported.
The terrorist organization passed messages about kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit through a member of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s family, according to an article in the weekly Observer published Sunday. The paper said it agreed to protect the identity of the family member and details of the incident.
The attempts to establish a direct line of communication between Israel and Hamas was negotiated by veteran Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, according to the Observer. Baskin said Hamas has made overtures for direct negotiations with Israel three times since Shalit was captured in a cross-border raid in June 2006.
"Three times since Shalit’s kidnapping there has been the suggestion of opening a back channel through me," Baskin told the newspaper. "The first time that Hamas suggested to me opening a secret back channel was not long after Shalit’s kidnapping."
The report said Olmert’s office told Baskin shortly after Shalit’s kidnapping that it does not negotiate with terrorists. Later, during Operation Cast Lead, Hamas rejected the opening of secret negotiations over the linking of a prisoner exchange to free Shalit with a cease-fire, according to the Observer.
Baskin’s Hamas contact was a senior member of the terrorist organization who he met in Europe and was close to the Hamas leadership in Damascus and Gaza, he told the newspaper.
A week before the Gaza military operation, Baskin said he approached the Olmert family member a second time.
"I only involved [Olmert's family member] one more time. I was desperate to get a message to Olmert," he told the Observer.
Baskin said he would "need to find another messenger," adding, "At this point war had already been decided on."