Israeli cabinet debates Hamas prisoners’ conditions


Jerusalem : Israel’s outgoing cabinet met Sunday to debate proposals to worsen conditions for Hamas members held in Israeli jails, in an effort to pressure the Islamic organisation over the release of an Israeli soldier held in the Gaza Strip since June 2006.

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Justice Minister Daniel Friedman, who chaired a committee which formulated the proposals, said Israel would abide by “both international and local law”.

He told Israel Radio that while Israel would not prevent the prisoners from receiving visits from the Red Cross, some of their benefits would be restricted.

Friedman’s committee recommended limiting the so-called “periphery rights” the prisoners receive, such as studying in prison, watching television, reading newspapers and listening to radio.

Friedman said these rights were optional, rather than obligatory.

The cabinet discussion comes amid conflicting reports on whether negotiations to secure the release of Shalit are about to bear fruit.

Although Ofer Dekel, the special emissary of outgoing Premier Ehud Olmert left Israel for Cairo Saturday night, cabinet secretary Oved Yehezkel said the likelihood of a deal being reached on Shalit soon was low.

“The chances of securing Shalit’s release in the next two or three days are not high,” he told Israel Army Radio early Sunday.

The previous round of indirect negotiations with Hamas broke down March 16.

Shalit was snatched June 25, 2006, during a cross-border raid militants launched from the Gaza Strip. Since then, he has been held virtually incommunicado somewhere in the salient. Hamas has not allowed the Red Cross to visit him.