Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Israel must free hundreds of terrorists from Israeli prisons if it wants an abducted Israeli soldier safely returned, the Hamas terrorist group responsible for Gilad Shalit's kidnapping said Tuesday.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with government ministers to discuss the list of Palestinian prisoners whose release Hamas is demanding, his office said.
The Palestinian Authority's Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, said earlier in the day that his group was serious about reaching an agreement for a prisoner swap.
Gunmen allegedly led by Hamas members snatched Shalit during a raid on his army outpost near the Gaza Strip last June and took him back into the Palestinian-ruled territory.
The 20-year-old soldier has not been heard from since then, despite numerous reports of possible deals to free him.
Hamas handed the list of prisoners it wants released to the Israeli government through Egyptian intermediaries.
In a statement, Olmert's office warned against false hopes for a quick resolution of the situation. Although there has been some progress in negotiations, it said, they were "far from being complete."
The statement said the government voiced "disappointment and reservations ... over the list of prisoners whose release Hamas is seeking."
Olmert imposed a blackout on details of talks, but some of the names of the Palestinian prisoners were posted on a website affiliated with Hamas.
The list of at least 450 prisoners includes the most senior imprisoned member of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction, Marwan Barghouti, as well as the masterminds of dozens of suicide bombing attacks.
Barghouti is serving five consecutive life terms for his involvement in the murder of four Israelis and a Greek Orthodox priest.
Others on the list include: Ahmed Saadat, who heads the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, responsible for the 2001 murder of an Israeli cabinet minister; Fuad Shubaki who orchestrated the smuggling into the P.A. areas of tons of Iranian weapons when Abbas' predecessor, the late Yasser Arafat, headed the P.A.; and Abdullah Barghouti, a West Bank Hamas leader who pleaded guilty to building bombs that killed 66 people and wounded 500 more in several suicide attacks.
In the past, Israel has refused to release security prisoners who have "blood on their hands" -- any terrorist linked to the murder or wounding of Israelis or others. At the same time, it also pledges to all of its soldiers that it will do all it can to get them home if they are captured by the enemy.
A group representing families of victims of terrorism, the Israeli Terror Victims Association-Almagor, worries about the implications of freeing even those Palestinian security prisoners who don't fall into the "blood on their hands" category.
In an earlier report, the group noted that at least 173 people had been killed since the beginning of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000 by terrorists who were freed because they had no "blood on their hands" but later carried out more serious attacks.
In related news, Israel said on Tuesday that it arrested 19 Hamas members in the West Bank city of Kalkilya at the end of March. The government's Shin Bet security agency said the suspects were found to have been planning serious terror attacks, including the detonation of a car bomb laden with some 220 pounds of explosives in Israel's largest city during the recent Passover holiday.
The would-be bomber had reportedly driven the car into Tel Aviv, but then for unknown reasons, had returned to Kalkilya without detonating the device. During a subsequent wave of arrests in Kalkilya, the vehicle exploded.
"It has become clear that Hamas is working to immediately perpetrate serious attacks, including against the Israeli home front, following a period in which the organization built up its strength and its capabilities," the security agency said.
Hamas has a controlling majority in the P.A. government, which also includes Abbas' Fatah faction. Washington has been backing the Fatah faction as a "moderate" group, but critics say there is no difference between the goals of Fatah and Hamas.
Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal last week said his group would not "back down" or give up on a "single meter of our homeland." Hamas wants to establish an Islamic state encompassing the West Bank, Gaza Strip and all of Israel.
Mashaal also vowed to continue the "path of resistance."
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