Palestinians Prepared to Wait for Prisoner Release
LYNN NEARY, host:
Next, we'll meet a leader of a group that was involved in the capture of an Israeli soldier. The Israeli was taken prisoner a dozen days ago, and since then, Israel has repeatedly moved its forces into the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip. The 19-year-old soldier at the center of drama, is being held by militants from three organizations; they're demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners. One of those groups is called the Popular Resistance Committees. A senior leader of that group agreed to meet with three reporters, including NPR's Linda Gradstein.
LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:
Abu Radwan sits on a plastic chair under a fig tree in the garden of a small house in southern Gaza. Although only 41, his hair is mostly white, his neatly trimmed beard still mostly black. He glances nervously at the darkening sky, as he hears an Israeli plane pass overhead. He's already survived one Israeli assassination attempt. Abu Radwan says 19-year-old Gilad Shalit is still alive, and Islamic principles require that he be kept alive. But he warns if Shalit tries to escape, he will be killed.
Abu Radwan would not reveal whether Shalit is still being held in Gaza, as Israel intelligence believes. He says that information will only be released once hundreds of Palestinian women and children are freed from Israeli jails. He says the militants who seized Shalit turned him over to a separate group of militants. And those now holding the soldier, he says, don't even have cell phones with them, fearing Israel could track them down through cell phone calls.
Mr. ABU RADWAN (Senior Leader, Popular Resistance Committees): (Through Translator) The kidnapper, the one who supervised the heroic operation, the one who is managing the crisis, none of them know where is the soldier hidden. Because the communication is from the old fashion way, it is by paper moving from one to another, to another, to another.
GRADSTEIN: Israel has carried out a series of air strikes on Gaza, hitting Palestinian government ministries, schools, and Gaza's main power grid, knocking out electricity to most of the strip. Israel has also moved tanks and troops into several areas in Gaza, and is threatening to assassinate militants, and even officials in the Hamas-led government. But none of that, says Abu Radwan, will convince the militants to give up the soldier.
Mr. RADWAN: (Through Translator) We took a decision, that whatever the Israelis are going to do, we will not release the soldier. Abu Mazen, Haniyeh, all the government, you would invade the occupied; there is no possibility to be released.
GRADSTEIN: Israeli officials have insisted Israel will not free Palestinian prisoners under any circumstances. But Abu Radwan is sure it's only a matter of time before Israel gives in. He says the militants already have a list of 1,000 prisoners they want released. And the list includes leaders from all factions. Abu Radwan says the goal of the operation, 11 days ago, in which militant dug a tunnel under the border between Israel and Gaza, killed two Israeli soldiers and seized Gilad Shalit, was to capture at least one Israeli soldier alive. He says the group chose not to attack Israeli civilians.
Mr. RADWAN: (Through Translator) It was part of our plan to attack the military and the soldiers only. We could bring many fighters through this tunnel to Tel Aviv-Yafo, Haifa, Beersheba, and all other areas. But this is not our plan.
GRADSTEIN: In 1984, Abu Radwan says he threw a bomb at a bus in Tel Aviv, killing one Israeli. He spent 14 years in jail and was released eight years ago. In 2004, an Israeli air strike targeted the car he was traveling in, in Gaza, killing the driver but he escaped. He's on the run from Israel, sleeping in a different place each night. Last month, Israel assassinated the head of the Popular Resistance Committee, Jamal Abu Samhadana, who Abu Radwan says helped plan the capture of Gilad Shalit. He says his own assassination by Israel, is only a matter of time.
Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Gaza City.
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