Hamas is demanding that Israel release Marwan Barghouti, a man considered by some Palestinians to be Nelson Mandela

JERUSALEM (AP) — Some Palestinians view him as Nelson Mandela, a prime candidate to become their future president. He is also the most prominent prisoner held by Israel.

now Marwan BarghoutiThe country’s freedom is at stake Ceasefire negotiations between Hamas and Israel. Hamas leaders On Friday, Israel demanded the release of BarghoutiHe is the leader of the movement’s main political rival under any agreement to end the fighting in Gaza.

This request draws new attention to Barghouti, who plays a central role in Palestinian politics even after spending more than two decades behind bars. His release could pave the way for his eventual election to national office.

Hamas’ maneuver to release him appears to be an attempt to rally popular support for the armed group as well as to recognize his status as a uniquely unified Palestinian figure.

“Hamas wants to show the Palestinian people that it is not a closed movement. They represent part of the Palestinian social community. “They are trying to appear responsible,” said Qaddoura Fares, who heads the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs in the occupied West Bank and has long been involved in negotiations over prisoner releases.

Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official, called for Barghouti’s release while international mediators try to push through Israel and Hamas Towards an agreement after about four months of war.

Israel seeks his release More than 100 hostages are still being held by Hamas in Gaza. Hamas demands an end to the devastating Israeli military attack and the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners.

The war broke out on October 7, when Hamas fighters crossed the border into Israel, killing about 1,200 people and dragging 250 hostages into Gaza. The Hamas attack led to an Israeli ground and air campaign that killed more than 27,000 Palestinians. According to local health officialsIt caused a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.

More than 100 hostages were released during a week-long truce in November. Israel estimates that 136 hostages remain in captivity, although 20 of them have been declared dead. with Protests demanding the immediate release of the hostages With the invasion of Israel, and fears that time is running out to return them home safely, pressure is mounting on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reach an agreement.

For Palestinians, the plight of their imprisoned loved ones is deeply emotional. While Israel considers “security prisoners” terrorists, Palestinians widely view them as heroes fighting the Israeli occupation. Almost every Palestinian has it A friend, relative or acquaintance who was imprisoned.

The Israeli human rights group Hamoked says that Israel is currently holding approximately 9,000 security prisoners. Hamas demands the release of all of them. But in his statements on Friday, Hamdan mentioned only two by name – Barghouti and Ahmed Saadat.

Saadat heads a small faction that killed an Israeli minister in 2001 and is serving a 30-year prison sentence for participating in attacks.

Palestinians consider Barghouti, 64, a member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, a natural successor to the 88-year-old Abbas, who leads the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, the government that runs parts of the country. In the West Bank occupied by Israel.

Abbas, whose forces in Gaza were invaded by Hamas in 2007, hopes to regain control of the Strip after the war. But he is not very popular because of corruption within the authority and because of his security coordination with the Israeli army.

The Palestinians did not hold elections Since 2006, when Hamas won the parliamentary majority.

Fares, a supporter of Barghouti, said that if Barghouti is released, he may become a consensus candidate in a new round of elections behind which Hamas, Fatah and other Palestinian factions could rally. Opinion poll in wartime The post, published in December, showed Barghouti as the most popular politician among Palestinians, ahead of both Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

The Israelis view Barghouti as a major terrorist, and convincing Israel to release him will be an uphill battle.

Barghouti, a leader in the West Bank during the second Palestinian intifada in the early 2000s, is serving five life sentences for his role in several deadly attacks. During that intifada, Palestinian militants carried out deadly suicide bombings and shooting attacks targeting buses, restaurants, hotels and Israelis driving in the West Bank, sparking overwhelming Israeli military responses.

In 2002, Barghouti was arrested on multiple murder charges. He did not present any defence, refusing to acknowledge the authority of the court. Since then, he has repeatedly thrust himself into the spotlight.

In 2021, it is He recorded his own list For parliamentary elections that were later cancelled. A few years ago, it was He commanded more than 1,500 prisoners On a 40-day hunger strike to demand better treatment in the Israeli prison system. From prison, he continued to call for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war.

Barghouti was born in the West Bank village of Kober in 1962. While studying history and politics at Birzeit University, he helped lead student protests against the Israeli occupation.

He emerged as an organizer of the first Palestinian intifada that broke out in December 1987, but Israel eventually deported him to Jordan. He returned to the West Bank in the 1990s, as part of interim peace agreements that were supposed to pave the way for a Palestinian state, but faltered by the end of the decade when the Second Intifada broke out.

Barghouti was seen at the time as the political leader of the armed wing of the Fatah movement.

Israel has previously rejected calls for his release. Fares, who was a party to the negotiations, said that Israel refused to include him in the deal to exchange more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners in 2011 in exchange for one soldier held captive in Gaza by Hamas. Yahya Sinwar, the current Hamas leader in Gaza, and A The mastermind of the October 7 attackHe was released in this exchange.

The 2011 negotiations revolved around the release of one hostage. With the lives of more than 100 hostages now at stake, there is greater pressure than ever on Israel to release Palestinian prisoners. This could create the conditions for a deal that could simultaneously lead to Barghouti’s release and strengthen Hamas’ standing among the Palestinians.

“Hamas is stronger and smarter than ever,” Fares said. “They understand how important it is for the Palestinian people to have a consensus.”

(tags for translation)Marwan Barghouti

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