Report: Hamas tried to pass messages to Olmert via relative

Israeli peace activist told the Observer Olmert refused his attempts to launch dialogue with Hamas.
Hamas tried to hold clandestine talks with Israeli leaders in the lead-up to Operation Cast Lead, and attempted to pass messages to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert through a member of the PM’s family according to a report in the Observer on Sunday.

The British weekly did not name which member of Olmert’s family was reportedly contacted by Hamas, but said that veteran Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin was used as an intermediary between the militant group, Israeli officials, and Olmert, by way of a member of the PM’s family.

Baskin is quoted by the Observer as saying that Israel missed several opportunities over recent years to pursue dialogue with Hamas, including over captured Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Schalit, who was seized by Hamas-linked militants in a cross-border raid in June 2006.

“Three times since Schalit’s kidnapping there has been the suggestion of opening a back channel through me. The first time that Hamas suggested to me opening a secret back channel was not long after Schalit’s kidnapping,”

the Observer quotes Baskin as saying.

In the article, Baskin says his offers to help advance talks with Hamas were rejected by Olmert, who he says told him Israel does not negotiate with terrorists. Baskin told the Observer his Hamas contact was a senior member of the organization he met in Europe, who was reportedly close to the Hamas leadership in Damascus and Gaza.

The Observer says the ‘messenger’ Baskin used to contact Olmert was a family member of the prime minister.

“I was getting messages to Olmert through [this person]. And what I was getting back from Olmert through the same route was: ‘We don’t negotiate with terrorists’,” Baskin is quoted as saying.

Baskin says Hamas offered to provide a video proving Schalit was still alive, in exchange for the release of some women and other minor prisoners from Israeli jails. Baskin says Olmert told him the video was not necessary because Israel had already established that he the soldier was alive.

The article says the channel of communication with Hamas was swiftly closed, reportedly after the Shin Bet intercepted members of Hamas speaking about the identity of the Olmert family member involved the secret talks, infuriating Olmert.

According to the report, Baskin told the Observer that he was given approval to pursue informal contacts with Hamas, in coordination with Ofer Dekel, the official appointed by Olmert to head efforts to return Schalit.

The report says Baskin continued to deal with Hamas, communicating with his contact by way of emails, some of which were reportedly passed on to the group’s leadership in Syria and Gaza.

Baskin says that two weeks before Cast Lead began, he arranged a meeting with his Hamas contact in Europe, which produced an offer to link the release of Schalit to the lifting of the blockade, but he reportedly received no reply.

Originally Published at http://www.haaretz.com/news/report-hamas-tried-to-pass-messages-to-olmert-via-relative-1.271162