Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Price deemed too high in Israel prisoner swap

Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held captive for five years by Hamas, has been released. But it comes at a high price for Israel who have handed over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners over in return.

Shalit was handed over by Hamas to Egyptian mediators, the first move as more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners were due to be freed. The first 477 were due to be released on Tuesday. Awaiting their return were thousands of supporters who filled the city centre in Gaza.

Terror victims failed by courts

The exchange went ahead after the Israeli Supreme Court rejected a bid by families of victims of militant attacks to delay the swap. Many Israelis object to an individual prisoner release and had appealed to Israel's highest court to intervene. But their concerns were rejected. Amongst those who opposed the prisoner swap was Arnold Roth, whose daughter, Malka, was killed 10 years ago, when a suicide bomber attacked a pizzeria in Jerusalem. A woman convicted of involvement in the attack is among those due to be set free.

"These people who are released are going to become terrorists again. They're going to be inspirational. Many of them are iconic figures and we're going to pay a heavy price"

"We're aiming to have her name removed from the list," Roth told the BBC. "We're doing this principally because we think there is a colossal amount of misinformation about this specific woman. She's actually a monster, on really any view. She's cold blooded and charismatic, she's very attractive to look at and this has somehow bamboozled many of the people who've been reporting about her."

New terror threat

Roth says that prisoner exchanges had no place in civilised society. "She engineered the massacre that led to the deaths of 16 people and 130 injured. And she's been saying for at least five years: 'I'm going to get out. I don't regret a thing'. And she's also said: 'I would do it again'."

"These people who are released are going to become terrorists again," Roth says. "They're going to be inspirational. Many of them are iconic figures and we're going to pay a heavy price." Uzi Landau, an Israeli politician also fears the release will "only encourage" more terrorism and kidnappings.

Sgt Shalit was seized in 2006 by Hamas militants who tunnelled into Israel. He had been feared dead since there was little information exchanged between the two sides and he was refused contact with outside organisations including the Red Cross. But after much negotiation a historic prisoner swap was sealed [BBC]. 

For Sharit there was some clear relief. Speaking to Egyptian TV soon after his release he said, "You cannot imagine how I felt when I heard I would go home." But he said he had always remained optimistic. "It has been a very, very long five years, but I always knew I would go home," he said.

Difficult decisions

While Gilad Shalit's family will be happy to see him it is hardly a cause for celebration for Israel. Amongst the 1,000 Palestinian prisoners being released there are hundreds of convicted terrorists responsible for the deaths of more than 500 people. Amongst them is Marwan Bargouti, who was serving five life sentences in Israel for murder.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said that Hamas had accepted limitations pertaining to the released individuals. He also insisted that Israel was committed to furthering peace talks. But there will be fears amongst many Israelis that a new wave of terror may begin. Many of the released prisoners are being given a hero's welcome by Hamas, and the organisation is likely to be given a boost of popularity.

Hamas popularity boost

Hamas is deemed to be a terrorist organisation by several nations and while it has shifted slightly in its position over the recognition of Israel, there exists a great mistrust of the political party. The boost of support Hamas is likely to receive from this week's events will also detract from Fatah who have made some inroads towards a peaceful solution to the disputes existing between Palestine and Israel. 

For Palestinians there will be much celebration and relief too. But there are still strong divisions within the Palistian community. Sky's Tim Marshall observed that there were many yellow Fatah flags amongst the sea of green Hamas flags in Gaza city. It would be unlikely Fatah would win an election today, Tim Marshall said. "For Hamas, today is their day."

gut-wrenching images

Tim Marshall suggested it was inevitable that some of the released prisoners would return to violence. Such a prospect will be gut-wrenching for Israel. So too will the images being beamed around the world of the Palestinian prisoners arriving on the Rafah border.

The morning's events were carried extensively on Sky News, BBC, CNN International, Euronews, France 24, Al Jazeera, Press TV. There was less coverage on CNN's US feed, Russia Today, and China's CCTV News and CNC. Although it did feature as the top story on RT and CNC, CNN seemed more focused on the western Republican presidential debate while China Central Television was focused on China's economy.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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