Hamas Leader to Israeli-Arab Paper: We'll Free Gandhi's Killers

Khaled Meshal says that a first order of business for the new PA terrorist government will be the release from PA prison of the murderers of Israeli Cabinet Minister Rehavam Ze'evi.

Hillel Fendel , | updated: 10:34 AM

Meshal, a Syria-based Hamas leader, has never been in Gaza and has not set foot inside Judea and Samaria since his family left Ramallah when he was 11 (in 1967). He spoke with the Arabic-language newspaper Kol Al-Arab, published in Nazareth.

In the interview, published today, Khaled spoke of the new Hamas government that is expected to arise in the Palestinian Authority in the coming weeks. The Hamas terrorist organization won a majority of seats in the PA legislature in an election last month.

One of the new government's first priorities, Khaled said, would be the release of the four killers of Israeli Tourism Minister and retired IDF general Rehavam Ze'evi (Gandhi). The four are confined to a form of prison in Jericho, under the watch of British and American soldiers. They participated in the murder of Ze'evi (pictured) in a Jerusalem hotel in October 2001, rendering him the 188th victim of the then-one-year-old Oslo War. Another nearly 900 people have been similarly murdered since then.

"It is obvious that the release of [Ze'evi's killers] will be at the top of our agenda," Meshal said.

The four have been incarcerated in Jericho since April 2002, when, under Israeli and American pressure, the PA held a speedy trial and judged them to prison terms of up to 18 years. They had earlier holed themselves up with Yasser Arafat in his Muqata compound in Ramallah - and when Israel besieged it, Arafat was prevented from leaving as well. Only once the murderers were taken to an old British prison in Jericho, was Arafat allowed to travel freely.

The government of Israel has long held that the release of the murderers of an Israeli Cabinet minister would be a red line that cannot be crossed. Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz has said that if they are freed, Israel would "react with severity."

Palmach Ze'evi, son of the slain minister, recently told Arutz-7 that Mofaz is "good at making declarations." He said that by raising the issue, the PA is trying to test Israel and Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, "to see if he is as strong as he is trying to appear."

Neither was Meshal concerned about Mofaz's threat. "Israel always threatens," he said, "but it doesn't scare us. We will do what the people need, whether it angers Israel or not."

Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, said, "Israel cannot ignore such a decision to free them. If international efforts fail and the killers are in fact freed, they should be made to know that that will be their last day on earth."

"It cannot be that Palestinian political prisoners will remain in [PA] prison," Meshal said, referring to the murderers. "It is natural that we will begin the procedure of freeing them, so that our position in favor of the release of prisoners in Israeli prisons will be more solid."

The PA has in fact released all the Islamic Jihad prisoners who were arrested following recent terrorist attacks.

Meshal also said that the "period of calm," i.e., no terrorism, that ended on January 1 has not been renewed and is "not on the agenda." He said, "We will not have any contacts with Israel, direct or indirect. We say to the whole world that Israel is the one that must change its positions, and go to a position of retreat from the conquered Palestinian territories [sic] and recognize the national Palestinian rights [sic]."