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Palestinian Authority officials oppose release of Marwan Barghouti, source says

Majid Faraj and Hussein al-Sheikh have reportedly requested the Fatah leader be excluded from the potential Israel-Hamas swap deal, source says
Palestinians walk past graffiti depicting Palestinian prisoner Marwan Barghouti in the occupied West Bank city of Abu Dis on 13 March 2018 (Thomas Coex/AFP)

Senior Palestinian Authority (PA) officials have requested from mediators that Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti be excluded from a potential prisoner swap deal between Israel and Hamas, a source has told Middle East Eye.

A source familiar with the negotiations told MEE on Sunday that the request was made by Majid Faraj, the director of Palestinian general intelligence, and Hussein al-Sheikh, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's (PLO) executive committee.

The source added that senior PA leaders believed Barghouti's release would threaten the leadership of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

According to the source, the United States, one of three mediators involved in the indirect Gaza ceasefire negotiations, had reportedly agreed to remove Barghouti's name from any potential lists Hamas is expected to present.

Citing unnamed sources, the London-based Arabi21 news site reported in March that both the US and Israel opposed Barghouti's release. 

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MEE reached out to the White House and State Department for comment on whether they opposed Barghouti's release or the release of other Palestinian officials convicted in Israeli courts of killing Israelis, but did not receive a response by time of publication.

Barghouti, who has been jailed by Israel since 2002, is one of the most popular Fatah figures in the West Bank and Gaza, with a recent poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research finding that the 64-year-old would decisively win an election against the 88-year-old Abbas.

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Barghouti is currently serving a life sentence over his involvement in deadly armed resistance acts against Israel during the Second Intifada that started in 2000. 

The source told MEE that Hamas said it would insist on the release of Barghouti and other prominent jailed Palestinian figures. However, talks have not reached the stage where names and lists are exchanged, the source added. 

Amid the truce talks, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the Palestinian group was keen on reaching a comprehensive ceasefire that would end Israeli "aggression", guarantee Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and achieve a serious hostage-swap deal.

However, earlier on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hardened his rejection of Hamas demands for an end to the war, saying that would keep the group in power and pose a threat to Israel’s security.

In his statement, Haniyeh blamed Netanyahu for "the continuation of the aggression and the expansion of the circle of conflict, and sabotaging the efforts made through the mediators and various parties".

Abuse against Barghouti 

The US, Egypt and Qatar have been mediating indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas for months to reach a ceasefire in Gaza and a prisoner exchange deal. 

Hamas has insisted any potential deal must include a permanent end to the war while Israel is seeking only a temporary pause. 

The Palestinian group launched a surprise attack on Israel on 7 October that left around 1,200 people killed and 240 others taken captive, according to Israeli officials. 

In response, Israel launched a devastating bombing campaign, ground invasion and siege of Gaza, killing at least 34,500 people and causing a humanitarian crisis, according to Palestinian and UN officials. 

Since the start of the war, Israel has also launched a massive crackdown in the occupied West Bank, killing hundreds and arresting thousands of people.

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According to rights groups, at least 9,500 Palestinians are currently held in Israeli jails, while another 5,000 Palestinians were detained in Gaza and taken to undisclosed locations.
Israeli prison authorities have also been accused of escalating punitive measures against Palestinian prisoners since 7 October, including against Barghouti.

The measures included torture, beatings and denial of food. At least 10 Palestinians have died in custody under those circumstances.

Earlier this year, there were reports that Barghouti, who was moved into isolation after the 7 October attacks, was badly beaten in his cell inside the Ayalon-Ramla prison.

The US reportedly asked Israel to investigate the claims, which Israel's prison service denied.

Barghouti's family have also said he has faced increased abuse in recent months. His younger brother Muqbel told the Globe and Mail on Friday that despite the reported abuse, Barghouti would be unbroken by intimidation attempts.

"It's not an elective option for them – the Israelis will be forced to release him," he said, referring to the ceasefire negotiations.

He added that his brother intends to return to the occupied West Bank and would not accept a deal that sees him released into exile.

MEE reached out to the PA and PLO for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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