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Wednesday May 12, 2010 5:05 PM (EST+7)
Hamas dismisses Russian pressure to free Israeli

Read more: prisoner exchange, Hamas, Gilad Shalit

DAMASCUS, May 12 (Reuters) - Hamas dismissed on Wednesday Russian pressure to release an Israeli soldier and said he will not be set free without an honourable prisoner exchange deal.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev on Tuesday asked Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of the Palestinian Islamist movement, to quickly resolve the issue of Gilad Shalit, who was captured im 2006 by Hamas militants who tunnelled into Israel from Gaza.

Khaled Meshaal told the Russian president that we don't want to keep Shalit but only an honourable deal will solve the issue, Hamas politburo member Izzat al-Rishq told Reuters.

President Bashar al-Assad, who was hosting Medvedev in the Syrian capital, attended the meeting.

Syria hosts exiled leaders of Hamas, including Meshaal, and has influence on the group, which is also backed by Iran.

A German mediator renewed efforts in January to reach an agreement between Hamas and Israel, when the Jewish state signalled tougher terms and the process stalled.

Hamas said then that Israel was demanding that dozens of Palestinians jailed after being convicted of involvement in killings be deported upon their release.

Rishq blamed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for failure to reach an agreement that would have involved around 1,000 out of 7,000 Palestinian prisoners being set free in exchange for Shalit.

Netanyahu is trying to push for an empty deal. Hamas wants the maximum number of prisoners with long sentences to be freed from Israeli occupation jails, Rishq said.

As a right-wing leader, Netanyahu faces a particular dilemma in freeing Palestinians who might commit further violence. But he is also under heavy public pressure to win Shalit's release.

Medvedev's spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said he called at the meeting with Meshaal for a quick solution to the issue of Israeli soldier G. Shalit, so that he is freed as soon as possible.

Hamas is shunned in the West because the group refuses to recognise Israel, and the United States considers Hamas a terrorist organisation.

But Russia, a member of the Middle East peace negotiators known as the Quartet, says Hamas should not be isolated, and Moscow has kept channels open with the group.






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