Israel mulls releasing uprising leader to Abbas
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel could release Palestinian uprising leader Marwan Barghouthi to bolster President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction before any prisoner swap with Hamas, an Israeli political source said on Sunday.
Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is trying to negotiate a last-minute deal with Hamas under which Israel would release 1,000 or more Palestinian prisoners in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
To help Fatah, one idea under discussion was the possibility of releasing Barghouthi before the prisoner swap with Hamas, the political source told Reuters, adding that while it was under consideration, no decisions had been taken.
"There will not be a Shalit deal without the release of Marwan Barghouthi," Barghouthi's lawyer, Hader Shkirat, told Israel's Channel 10 television.
"The deal is closer than ever. We think and hope it will be very, very soon, perhaps in a few days."
Barghouthi is seen as a possible successor to Abbas, whose secular Fatah faction lost to Hamas in a 2006 election and was routed from the Gaza Strip in a June 2007 civil war between the Palestinian rivals.
Barghouthi was sentenced by an Israeli court to five life terms after being found guilty on five counts of murder. He was arrested by Israel in the West Bank in April 2002 during a violent Palestinian uprising against Israel.
Israel last freed some 250 Palestinian prisoners in November, all aligned with Abbas's secular Fatah faction. Israel said the release was intended as a confidence-building measure to bolster Abbas and his Fatah faction.
Shkirat said relations between Barghouthi and Abbas were "very good" and that Abbas was regularly in touch with his client, who is being held in a prison in central Israel.
Olmert repeated his demand of Hamas on Sunday night that Shalit should be freed as a first part of any deal with the Islamist group in a prisoner swap, opening the border crossings with Gaza and cementing a ceasefire.
"First, Gilad Shalit, second, the end of smuggling of arms across the Egyptian border ... and third, complete total ceasefire and any hostile activities by Hamas from Gaza," Olmert said in a speech to American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.
(Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem, Writing by Adam Entous and Ori Lewis; Editing by Charles Dick)
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