Report Says Iran Paid Hamas Not to Free Abducted Israeli Soldier

Report Says Iran Paid Hamas Not to Free Abducted Israeli Soldier

Jerusalem ( - An Israeli newspaper says that Iran paid $50 million to the Hamas leadership in Damascus to scuttle a deal that would have led to the release of an abducted Israeli soldier.

If the report is true, it would be another sign of Tehran's growing influence over Hamas. Although the Iranian leadership is Shiite Muslim and Hamas is Sunni Muslim, they share the common goal of destroying Israel.

Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal is a regular visitor to Tehran. Last year, he pledged his support for Iran, saying that if Iran were attacked by Israel, Hamas would "expand the battlefield to Palestine."

Hamas' Palestinian Authority Interior Minister Said Sayaam met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week. Ahmadinejad offered to share Iran's "experience and achievements" with Hamas. The two reportedly discussed the possibility of Hamas operatives training in Iran.

Experts said that would not be difficult, now that the P.A. is in charge of the Egyptian-Gaza border.

Israel and the Palestinians reached a deal to free captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit two months ago in exchange for Israel's release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners "in stages," the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot reported on Thursday.

Shalit was abducted on June 25 during an operation in which Hamas-led Palestinian terrorists tunneled under the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, attacked an Israeli army outpost, killed two soldiers and snatched Shalit.

Several days after it appeared that a deal had been reached, an Iranian delegation arrived in Damascus and paid Mashaal $50 million on the condition that he torpedo the exchange, the report said quoting unnamed Western sources.

Mashaal then reportedly upped the ante, demanding the release of what Israel considers "tough prisoners," the report said.

Shalit's abduction as well as continued Palestinian rocket attacks against southern Israeli towns, have prompted an Israeli military invasion into the Gaza Strip for the first time since Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza a year ago.

There have been almost daily reports on dealings to obtain Shalit's release in the local media, unlike the case of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who were abducted by Hizballah several weeks after Shalit was grabbed.

Meanwhile, Israel has kept up pressure on the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces uncovered another five tunnels on Wednesday, which the army says are used to smuggle weapons from the Egyptian Sinai into the Gaza Strip.

Twenty-one tunnels have been uncovered there since Israel re-entered the Gaza Strip following Shalit's capture. Israel is concerned that Palestinian terror groups are stockpiling weapons.

Two Palestinian gunmen were killed in the Gaza Strip in exchanges of fire with Israeli troops on Wednesday.

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