JERUSALEM (JTA) – Negotiations to bring about the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit have collapsed, a Hamas official said.
Mahmoud Zahar told the BBC Tuesday that the process to swap prisoners has "failed" over the "interference" of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
"The main cause … is that after the interference of the political element, after the interference of Netanyahu personally, there was a big regression and retraction," Zahar said during an interview from Gaza on BBC World News’ "Hardtalk" program. "For this reason, everything now is stopped."
Last month, Netanyahu called on Israeli negotiators to take a tougher stance on the deal being mediated by Germany, Reuters reported.
Hamas was angry that Israel planned to deport dozens of the up to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners that would be released in the deal.
Other reports have suggested that Hamas halted the negotiations after the murder of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. Hamas still publicly blames Israel for his assassination even though its own internal probe reportedly showed that Arab agents killed him.
"If Hamas wants a deal, then it will happen," Netanyahu said Tuesday during a news conference with visiting Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. "If it doesn’t want a deal, then there won’t be one. We have a goal of bringing home Gilad Shalit alive and well, and to do this in a way that won’t enable terrorists to resume murderous acts."
Shalit was captured into Gaza during a cross-border raid in June 2006.
Activists for Shalit on Tuesday morning demonstrated at the Karni and Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza, preventing fuel trucks from crossing into Gaza. Police disbursed the demonstrators.