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Hamas Official: Prisoner Swap Was Victory For All Palestinians

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In two interviews, today, NPR's Robert Siegel got reaction from Hamas and the Israeli government over a prisoner swap deal that freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.

When Robert asked Osama Hamdan, a senior official from the Hamas international relations department, what the deal meant for future relations between Hamas and Israel, Hamdan said it "depends on the Israeli side."

"Are the Israelis ready to accept the rights of the Palestinians?" he said. Hamdan then said that Fatah, Hamas' rival political party, had not given the Palestinians "a good answer."

Robert asked Hamdan if what he was saying was that Hamas had better served Palestinians. Hamdan said that the prisoner swap was a victory for "all Palestinians."

But as the Christian Science Monitor reports, the deal will inevitably boost support of Hamas is the West Bank. They report that on the streets of Ramallah, today, you could see the "green flags of Hamas flapping in the wind." The paper added:

One man's flag was snatched out of his hands by a plainclothes security officer, who shook his head as he rolled up the green fabric, but many continued to make their support for Hamas, at least for today, clear.

Jawad Awash, wearing a Hamas cap and a Hamas banner tied around his neck, held up a poster of his cousin Taha Shahshir, who was in prison for 20 years.

"Thanks to god. I am happy. Hamas is on my head from above," Mr. Awash says, using a common Arabic expression indicating respect. He traveled from the West Bank city of Nablus to welcome Mr. Shahshir, who was swarmed by family and friends when he entered the crowd.

In his interview with Robert, Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael B. Oren made it clear that this deal did not mean Israel was negotiating with Hamas and he also denied that the deal would make Hamas more popular among Palestinians. Oren said that a recent poll — taken after the prisoner swap deal was announced — showed that Hamas "is imploding."

"Maybe they'll receive a blip of support from the release of these prisoners today," he said. "But in the long run their constituents are going to still be asking the tough questions: Why don't we have the same future that the Palestinians on the West Bank have."

One thing both sides said is that in cutting the deal, they made tough choices. Oren said that proves that "Israel's government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu is capable of making very hard, very painful decisions." And that if he was a Palestinian he would say, "this is a government that can make a historic peace with us."

Hamdan said the negotiations prove that Hamas is "rational," that they were able to come to common ground with Israel on the issue of which of the freed prisoners would be deported and which would be allowed back into the West Bank.

Much more of Roberts conversations aired on All Things Considered. We'll post audio of both conversations a bit later on.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.