Top Hamas official Sheik Hassan Yousef among those released • Noam Shalit: Prisoners released while officials sow fear about a prisoner exchange for my son.
Citing intense overcrowding in its prisons, on Thursday Israel released 770 Palestinian prisoners, 200 of whom are considered security prisoners. Among those released was Sheik Hassan Yousef, a Hamas leader in the West Bank.
Yousef had previously completed a four-year sentence and, six months after his release, was arrested and imprisoned again. His detention period officially ended last month, but security officials delayed his release by six weeks for administrative reasons. Yousef's son, Mosab Hassan Yousef, famously converted to Christianity and joined Israel's Shin Bet security service as an informant in 1997, serving as Israel's most valuable informant during the Second Intifada. In 2010, he wrote a book, “Son of Hamas,” about his experience, and shortly afterward fled to the U.S., where he received political asylum.
At a gathering held in Ramallah to celebrate his release, the elder Yousef said he intended to join the intra-Palestinian reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah, and called on “all Palestinian factions to join forces in light of the Zionist threat.” In an interview with the Palestinian Ma'an news agency, Yousef denied reports suggesting Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails torpedoed a potential prisoner exchange deal for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. “Netanyahu derailed negotiations by refusing to accept Hamas's demands,” Yousef said.
Gilad Shalit's father, Noam, reacted to the prisoner release on Tuesday, saying, “This is the first time we have heard of security prisoners being released because the Israel Prison Service has no means to keep them there,” he said. “At the same time, the prime minister and his bureau are sowing fear among the public that releasing prisoners in exchange for an Israeli soldier will bring about a wave of terrorism. Terrorists will try to strike regardless of the circumstances in which prisoners were released.”
The Israel Prison Service has a capacity of 17,700 prisoners, but until this latest release, 18,442 prisoners were being held in Israeli jails. The Administrative Release Law stipulates that if the number of prisoners exceeds capacity, all prisoners who have a certain number of days remaining in their terms must be released immediately.