IDF attempted ’08 operation to capture Hamas commander to swap for Shalit

Israel attempted to capture the former head of Hamas’ military wing in 2008 in order to exchange him for then-captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, according to newly released documents.

The operation involved special forces and the top brass of Israel’s defense establishment. Soldiers were dispatched to Gaza to nab Ahmed Jabari, formerly the head of Hamas’ military wing, as he was driving to visit one of his two wives, the Times of Israel reported. The Israel Defense Forces then planned to offer Jabari in exchange for Shalit, whom Hamas had captured two years earlier.

But the operation was aborted when Jabari’s car made an unexpected turn.

After indirect negotiations with Hamas, Shalit was exchanged for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in 2011. In November 2012, Israel assassinated Jabari at the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense, an eight-day conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

Abduct Israelis to free prisoners, Gaza leaders say

Islamic leaders in the Gaza Strip called on Friday for militants to kidnap Israelis and use them as bargaining chips to secure the freedom of thousands of Palestinians prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Human rights groups say up to 2,000 prisoners have joined an open-ended hunger strike to protest against jail conditions and thousands of Palestinians staged a rally in the Gaza Strip to support their cause.

“We should work hard to get (Israeli) prisoners in our hands in order to secure the freedom of our prisoners,” Khaled Al-Batsh, a senior member of the Islamic Jihad, told the crowd.

“I say to all armed factions, the way to free the prisoners is through swaps … An arrest for an arrest, and freedom for freedom. This is the way,” he said.

Israel last year freed some 1,000 Palestinians in return for the release of Gilad Shalit, a soldier seized in 2006 and held by the Islamist group Hamas in secret captivity for five years.

Human Rights groups say at least 4,700 Palestinians remain in Israeli jails, many of them convicted for violent crimes. Palestinian leaders say they should be treated as prisoners of war, something Israel rejects.

Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza, said Palestinian militant factions would “never abandon” the prisoners.

“The swap deal was a message to the (Israeli) occupation that the resistance and the Palestinian people will pursue every difficult avenue to break the chains of these heroes,” he said.

“We are in a battle for the prisoners, and we will either win, or we will win,” he added.

Friday’s rally saw participants waving both the green and black flags of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad – a sign of growing ties between the two groups, which share the same Islamist ideology and advocate the destruction of the state of Israel.

Prisoners are seen as heroes in their communities and the mass hunger strike is putting pressure on the leadership to respond. Israel struck deals with two prisoners earlier this year to end their hunger strikes, but is resisting demands for further concessions.

At least two prisoners have been refusing food for more than eight weeks. A mass hunger strike by at least 1,200 was launched on April 17 and the Addameer prisoners’ association has said a further 800 have since joined the movement.

Editing by Crispian Balmer and Robin Pomeroy

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