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Israel rejects Abbas demand to release rebel leaders

Palestinian president Abbas demands that the Jewish state free two jailed militant leaders in return for the release of a captured soldier.

india Updated: Sep 25, 2006 13:01 IST

Israel rejected on Monday demands by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas that the Jewish state free two jailed militant leaders in return for the release of a captured soldier.

Abbas told Egypt's Mehuar satellite television on Sunday that he would seek the release of Marwan Barghuti and Ahmed Saadat in prisoner exchange talks led by Egypt.

But Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres told public radio that "Abu Mazen (Abbas) would be making a mistake if he set conditions for the release of (Corporal Gilad) Shalit," the soldier who was captured on June 25.

A senior government official told the agency that Abbas "can forget about the release of Barghuti and Saadat."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had said Friday he was prepared to negotiate a prisoner release with Abbas in exchange for Shalit.

The corporal was seized on June 25 in a cross-border raid by Gaza militants in an operation claimed jointly by the armed wing of the governing Islamist movement Hamas and two other hardline groups.

Barghuti, the West Bank Fatah leader and the man regarded as the inspiration behind the Palestinian intifada, was handed five life terms for murder by an Israeli court in June 2004.

Israel blames Saadat, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), for the 2001 killing of Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi.

He was held in a Jericho prison under US and British supervision until he and five other militants were captured in an Israeli raid in March.

Israel's attorney general has since decided not to prosecute Saadat over the assassination but instead over other security charges.