Israel will not release top security prisoners, nor common criminals, in the second phase of its prisoner swap deal with Hamas, senior official in the Gaza-ruling faction Mahmoud Zahhar said Sunday.
Under the second phase of the deal reached last week, 550 Palestinians — who remain unnamed — will be freed from Israeli jails within two months, coming after the release of 477 prisoners in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit on Tuesday.
While the Gaza militants who kidnapped Shalit will not directly negotiate the list in the second phase, Hamas leader Zahhar told Ma’an the movement had set the criteria for which prisoners would be freed, and Egypt — who brokered the deal — would guarantee their observation by Israel.
His comments come after Israeli intelligence officials told Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth on Sunday that petty criminals rather than security prisoners would be selected by Israel for release in the deal’s second part.
“Insurance companies will be the main losers after the next phase,” an anonymous Shin Bet official scoffed, according to the report.
Meanwhile, Israeli political analyst Alex Fishman told the Israeli daily he expects Israel to release prominent security prisoners in order to maintain good relations with deal-mediators Egypt, in response Israel’s weakness in the region following the Arab Spring.
But Zahhar denied the most prominent political detainees would be freed, and also stressed that Egypt would not allow Israel to “release chicken thieves and criminals.”
“We will intervene and have discussions with the Egyptians since we set the criteria and Egypt knows that,” he told Ma’an.
“Further, Israel is interested in improving relations with Egypt, so the deal’s terms will not be breached,” the Hamas leader added.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for Hamas’s military wing said the list of prisoners to be released would not include people who were arrested on non-security charges, and they should not have sentences which are approaching completion.
According to the criteria agreed with Israel and guaranteed by Egypt, priority will be given to the elderly and sick as well as anyone who spent more than 20 years behind bars, al-Qassam brigades spokesman Abu Ubeida added.
Speculation about the second phase of releases has also been fueled by perceptions that the deal has boosted Hamas at the expense of President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, which rules the West Bank after long-held rivalries escalated into near civil war in 2007 and split Palestinians into two administrations.
Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni told Israeli radio on Sunday that the next phase of prisoner exchange should be coordinated with the president and not Hamas, complaining that currently the deal “legitimizes and strengthens Hamas.”
In Yedioth Ahronoth, Fishman said “direct and indirect” partners to the deal were pushing Israel to boost the Abbas through the second round of releases.
The president told Time Magazine on Thursday that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised him that Israel would release more prisoners in a good will gesture to the president after a deal to release Shalit was concluded, and vowed to call on the current Israeli premier to honor the pledge.