woensdag 3 december 2008

Israel gaat Hamas ministers en parlementatiërs vrijlaten

Wie één mens redt, redt de mensheid? Shalit had allang vrij moeten zijn, maar Hamas laat liever hem en honderden Palestijnse gevangenen al 2 jaar in gevangenschap zitten, dan een redelijke deal met Israel te sluiten.

Israel to free Hamas 'bargaining chips' arrested over Shalit
By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff - Haaretz
Last update - 02:47 30/11/2008

Israel will soon be freeing all the "bargaining chips" it arrested in 2006 in order to trade them for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit: Dozens of Hamas parliamentarians, along with several Hamas ministers, will have to be released within the next year, even if no deal for Shalit is struck, because they will have finished serving their two- to three-year sentences.

"Everyone understands that the arrests of these men will not have helped Shalit much," a security official involved in the affair said.

On June 29, 2006, four days after Shalit was kidnapped, Israel arrested dozens of Hamas members throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including eight ministers in the Hamas government and some 20 Hamas parliamentarians. Others were arrested in the following weeks.

Though Israel never said so officially, it was clear that this was retaliation for Shalit's abduction, and that the detainees were meant to serve as bargaining chips for his release. At the time, senior legal and defense officials said the arrests "spearheaded" efforts to get Shalit back.

When the detainees were indicted, the aim was to secure jail terms of seven to ten years. In practice, however, it turned out to be impossible to prove most of the detainees were directly involved in Hamas' terror activity. Thus they were generally charged only with lesser offenses, such as membership in an illegal organization, Hamas.

Meanwhile, the trials have been proceeding lackadaisically, and some have still not concluded. But those that have ended generally resulted in the defendants receiving relatively light sentences, ranging from two to three and a half years. As a result, some have already been released, and most of the rest - including those whose trials have not yet concluded, since time served will count toward their sentences - are expected to be freed sometime between next April and the end of 2009.

Those who have already been released include some of the most senior Hamas officials: then-deputy prime minister Nasser al-Din Shaer, then-minister for Jerusalem affairs Khaled Abu Arafa, then-finance minister Omar Abdel Razek, and Adnan Asfour, Hamas' spokesman in the West Bank.

Ironically, longer sentences could have been secured through plea bargains in some cases: Early in the process, defense attorneys for some defendants feared that they would indeed be jailed for long terms, and therefore proposed plea bargains under which the men would be sentenced to four to six years in jail. However, the prosecution refused, since at that time it still believed it could obtain longer sentences by going to trial.

In reality, however, the courts have thus far imposed a sentence of more than three and a half years in only one case: Hatem Jarrar, then mayor of Jenin, was sentenced to six years. As a result, "the approach now [in the ongoing trials] is to sign relatively lenient plea bargains and be done with the matter," said the defense official involved in the affair.

All of the arrested Hamas ministers and parliamentarians are included in the list of prisoners Hamas is demanding in exchange for Shalit, and Israel has no objection to including them in the swap. Thus far, however, there has been no significant progress in the negotiations, senior defense officials said.

The officials said that while Hamas recently responded to Israel's latest proposal, the gap between the sides remains large. Altogether, Hamas is demanding Israel free 1,400 prisoners, including 350 it has specified by name. Most of these 350 were convicted of involvement in major terror attacks, and Israel has thus far agreed to release only 150 of them.

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