Hamas Leader: Shalit Release 'Is a Question of Weeks'

Zahar: I don't know what happened on the Israeli side, but we looked for everybody that could help to set our people free. Soon after the kidnapping (of Shalit), we began contacting the Egyptian security delegate in Gaza, General Burhan Hamad. But Israel at that time sought to solve the problem by security methods. When they failed after a few weeks, they resorted to an aggressive war against Hamas and against the Palestinian people, destroying bridges, hospitals, schools, municipalities. But they failed to achieve their goal. After many attempts at military actions, the Israelis asked Britain for help and we welcomed them. There was some progress regarding acceptable names of prisoners (to be released), but in the last phase of the Olmert government, during the hot election campaign, it was very difficult to achieve a deal.

SPIEGEL: How would you characterize the German mediation?

Zahar: We are discussing the issues in a very accurate way. Together we go through the list of prisoners and check why and how long each of them has been imprisoned in Israel. This is a very difficult process. Therefore, we sometimes resort to non-official speech in order to reach an understanding. Once we reach a common understanding we take further steps.

SPIEGEL: How close are we to the release of Gilad Shalit?

Zahar: It is a question of weeks, maximum a few months. We want to end the negotiations as soon as possible. We are not looking for it to be too many weeks. With German mediation Hamas will continue the discussions secretly, away from media, until we reach a deal.

Hamas: Gilad Shalit Part of Israel's 'Killing Machine'

SPIEGEL: The reason Israel does not want to pay a high price is that it will encourage you to kidnap more soldiers.

Zahar: We tried kidnapping many times. More than 10 times alone in order to get Sheikh Ahmad Yassin released...

SPIEGEL: ...the Hamas founder and spiritual leader, who was later killed by Israel.

Zahar: Once we succeeded in releasing Sheikh Ahmad Yassin as a result of the failed assassination attempt against Khaled Meshaal, no kidnappings took place in the West Bank. But as long as our people are imprisoned in Israel, this will encourage everybody to make use of methods like kidnapping. If Israel continues the philosophy of imprisoning our people, it has to expect a lot of things. Solving the Shalit problem is not a sign of Israel's weakness -- rather, its retaliation policy is a sign of weakness.

SPIEGEL: Is Hamas ready to compromise, for example on the original demand for the release of 450 prisoners?

Zahar: In such difficult negotiations, nobody can dictate his conditions to the other side, neither Israel nor Hamas. If a fair compromise is presented, we will accept it. We are realistic, we are fully responsible and the Hamas delegate is fully supported by the people, by the prisoners' families and by the different factions because this is a national interest. We are talking about the most vulnerable. That is why we first demanded the release of women. One woman gave birth to her son in prison. We are talking about children that grew up in Israeli prisons.

SPIEGEL: Do you have a message to Gilad Shalit's parents?

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