Israel's 'Hamas prisoner bill' passes initial reading

JERUSALEM- An Israeli bill seeking to toughen the conditions under which Hamas prisoners are held passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset on Wednesday by 52 votes to 10, legislator Jamal Zahalka said.
The bill, which on Sunday won the backing of the ruling coalition of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, comes in response to a stalemate over the fate of soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held by Hamas militants since 2006.

Israeli protesters stand next to a flag showing the picture of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Israeli protesters stand next to a flag showing the picture of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
The 120-seat Knesset also gave a preliminary reading to another draft law which would revoke the citizenship of anyone convicted of "spying for a terror organisation."
Each bill would need to pass a further three readings in the parliament before becoming law.
Dubbed "the Shalit law", the prisoners bill would end family visits to Hamas inmates, restrict their access to newspapers, television and study, and allow them to be held in solitary confinement for an unlimited time.
Zahalka, a member of Israel's Arab minority, said he saw it as a measure to put psychological pressure on Hamas and reassure the Israeli public that the government was doing its utmost to free Shalit.
"The goal of the proposed law against the Hamas prisoners is to threaten Hamas, and to put pressure on it to agree to a deal to release the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit," he told AFP.
"I doubt these laws will continue to move forward and get final approval," he added, without elaborating.
Likud Knesset member Danny Danon, one of those who sponsored the bill, said that if enacted it would bring to an end the "VIP treatment" enjoyed by Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails.
"This law is a statement to Hamas: 'We have had enough. The party is over. From today, we will speak with you in language you understand'," Danon told the assembly.
On Sunday, the ministerial committee on legislation voted to back the bill, thereby strengthening its chances of passing into law, although legislators said its provisions are likely to be watered down before that happens.
Hamas on Sunday said the move would not achieve anything.
Shalit, now 23, was captured in June 2006 by Hamas and two smaller armed groups in a cross-border raid in which two other soldiers were killed.
He is believed to be held in a secret location somewhere in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
Israel is reportedly prepared to release around 450 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit, who also holds French citizenship.
But negotiations for a possible exchange hit a dead end in December, when Israel presented an offer through a German mediator to which Hamas has yet to officially respond. Each side has blamed the other over the stalled talks.

Wednesday, May 26th 2010

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