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Israel to fFree Plotter of Minister's Assassination

Aaron Klein

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March 17, 2009

TEL AVIV, Israel – According to a prisoners list made partially public yesterday, Israel apparently is ready to release confessed intifada architect and terrorist-group founder Marwan Barghouti as well as Ahmed Saadat, the infamous secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who is accused of organizing the assassination of Israel's tourism minister.

Pro-Israel demonstration in Berlin calling for release of Israeli solider Gilad Shalit

The releases would be part of a larger prisoner exchange with the Hamas terrorist organization that would bring home kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held captive since June 2006.

Yesterday, Israel released to the public a list of some prisoners which Hamas has demanded be freed for Shalit but which Israel adamantly refuses to spring from prison. Missing from the list was both Barghouti and Saadat.

In recent days, top sources in Hamas provided WND with a list of prisoners whose release they requested during Egyptian-brokered negotiations with the Jewish state. Barghouti and Saadat were among the top 10 requested terrorists by Hamas.

On Monday, sources in Hamas, the Egyptian government and the Barghouti family all told WND they were informed Israel will release Barghouti if there is a larger prisoner exchange with Hamas that would bring home Shalit.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev, would neither confirm nor deny the report.

"We'd like to have Gilad Shalit back home, and we're making serious efforts," he told WND.

A separate source in Olmert's office confirmed Barghouti has been accepted as part of a prisoner exchange with Hamas.

Yesterday, sources in both the Egyptian government and Hamas told WND they understood Israel was willing to free Saadat. This could not be confirmed with sources in Olmert's office.

Saadat calls for the dismantlement of Israel and strongly opposes any peace deals with the Jewish state. He is accused of masterminding the 2001 assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, who was murdered in his Jerusalem hotel. Zeevi was a popular figure in the Israeli nationalist camp who boasted crossover support among the general population here. Many saw him as a possible future candidate for prime minister.

Barghouti, serving multiple life terms for killing and planning the murders of scores of Israeli civilians, successfully ran in Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006, stressing as part of his election platform his efforts in planning the intifada.

Barghouti is a founder of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the so-called military wing of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction. The Brigades is responsible for scores of deadly shootings and rocket attacks, and, together with the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization, for every suicide bombing in Israel since 2005.

Barghouti has widespread support in the Palestinian street and with many members of Fatah. Although Hamas is at odds with Fatah, the Islamist group has publicly included Barghouti among the top of its list of prisoners it wants released for Shalit, likely so Hamas can be seen as the dealmaker.

Informed Israeli diplomatic sources told WND that if a larger deal is struck for Shalit, the Jewish state is considering announcing the release of Barghouti as a declared gesture to Abbas to bolster Fatah alongside a larger prisoner exchange with Hamas that is sure to legitimize the terrorist group.

Negotiations for Israeli soldier continue

Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin and Ofer Dekel, Olmert's chief negotiator on the Shalit talks, both returned yesterday from intense indirect negotiations with Hamas in Cairo. After briefing his security cabinet on the results of the talks, Olmert announced in a national television address that Hamas' demands for Shalit were too steep.

"Israel presented generous far-reaching proposals to the other side that were supposed to bring about the release of Gilad," Olmert said.

"I approved these proposals that meant in practice that hundreds of terrorists would be released, including some who killed Israelis. These proposals were rejected," he said. "Others will not be handed over to Hamas."

"Over the last years we have held meetings with unlimited channels, in different places around the world," Olmert said. "Unfortunately, we are entangled with a cruel body, lacking basic human sentiment, murderous, unscrupulous, which was not ready to respond to the challenge.

"I want to say here, on behalf of the state of Israel and its government, we have red lines and we will not cross them," said Olmert.

The prime minister said negotiations for Shalit's release would continue until he leaves office – which could be within the next few days. According to sources in Hamas, Olmert's negotiators have been passing messages to the Islamist group claiming Hamas will not get a better deal for Shalit under Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, Olmert presented the cabinet with a list of 10 high-profile Palestinian prisoners which Israel was willing to release and another list of 10 prisoners Olmert said the Jewish state refused to free. In an unprecedented move, the Knesset published the names of the terrorists Hamas had demanded but which Olmert would not free. Missing from the list were both Saadat and Barghouti.