Abbas Unable to Help Free Shalit

Four and a half years after Abbas refused to conditionally free Shalit, he now calls on Hamas to do so but adds he has little influence in Gaza.

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu , | updated: 7:12 PM

Shalit video tape released by Hamas
Shalit video tape released by Hamas
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Four and a half years after Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas refused to conditionally free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, he now calls on Hamas to do so, but adds that he really has little influence in Gaza.

At a press conference in Bethlehem with visiting German President Christian Wulff, Abbas backed releasing the soldier without his previous condition that Shalit's freedom be linked to Israel’s letting hundreds of PA prisoners and terrorists out of prison.

However, he noted that Shalit deserves to be reunited with his family “just as Palestinian Authority prisoners deserve the same right." Shalit was kidnapped in a terrorist attack at the Kerem Shalom crossing, outside of Gaza territory. Two of his comrades were killed.

Shalit's physical and psychological conditions are not known, and Hamas, which controls Gaza, has refused to honor the Geneva Convention and allow Red Cross officials to visit Shalit.

Although Abbas admitted he has little influence on Hamas, the PA chairman worked against freeing the soldier when his Fatah movement had control of Gaza when Shalit was kidnapped in June 2006.

Abbas issued several conflicting statements in the year before Hamas wrested control from Fatah and threw Abbas’ officials out of Gaza. Ten weeks after Shalit was kidnapped, Abbas told a Bahrain-based newspaper that Shalit would be transferred to Egypt and held there until Israel released prisoners, but the Israeli government said it had no idea of what he was referring to.

In June 2007, Abbas vowed Shalit would be released “soon” and without conditions. "I would like to say that we are working to secure Shalit's release and that these efforts will soon bear fruit. We are optimistic. He will be released soon," Abbas told the France 24 news channel. "I am convinced we must free the soldier Shalit. He cannot remain imprisoned all this time.

"At the same time, we say to the Israelis that they must free the Palestinian prisoners. But one thing does not depend on the other. Shalit must be released."

The following year, fearing that a deal for releasing Hamas prisoners for Shalit would bolster the image of Hamas, Abbas vowed to dismantle the Palestinian Authority if a an exchange was achieved. He sent a warning to then-IDF Central Command Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni via Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the PA’s civil affairs department, that when he said “dismantling” he was not referring only to his personal resignation.

In another contradictory statement, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas added, “We are against Gilad Shalit’s captivity. He must be released in exchange for other prisoners. This is the only way we can reach a solution."