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Hamas: Shalit Not to Be Released Until Palestinian Prisoners Freed

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A senior leader of the Islamic Hamas movement warned on Sunday that captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit would not be freed before Israel frees Palestinian prisoners from its jails.

Mushir el-Masri made the remarks in his reaction to earlier statements by Israeli Transportation Minister Sha'oul Mofaz that Ismail Haneya, deposed prime minister of Hamas, will not see the light before Shalit is freed.

"The attempts to provoke us and threat our leaders is a failed (Israeli) attempt because our leaders are competing in the fields of Jihad (Holy War) and resistance. They don't care about these threats," said al-Masri.

Meanwhile, Hamas movement said in a statement Sunday that the talks on finalizing a prisoners swap (with Israel) to free Shalit "will be only after agreeing on a ceasefire and reopening the border crossings."

"Capturing more (Israeli) soldiers will be an opened choice for Hamas as long as there are Palestinian prisoners in the prisons of the occupation," vowed al-Masri.

Hamas and two minor armed groups captured Shalit in late June 2006 during a complicated armed attack on an Israeli army base southeast of the Gaza Strip. Two Israeli soldiers were killed in the attack and Shalit was abducted.

Most of the senior Hamas leaders, including Haneya are still hiding since the beginning of the Israeli military offensive on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on December 27, 2008.

Rumors spread in the Gaza Strip on Sunday saying that the truce talks with Israel had failed and Israeli would resume its strikes on the Gaza Strip, which led to a panic in Gaza where schools were evacuated and banks closed down.

Later on Sunday, the interior ministry of the deposed Hamas government denied the rumors and said in a statement that "these rumors are rootless."

(Xinhua News Agency January 26, 2009)

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