Israel releases Hamas man jailed after Shalit capture

Mohammed Abu Tir (File photo from 19 April 2006) Mr Abu Tir was among a number of Hamas figures arrested in 2006

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Israel has released a leading Hamas figure jailed after the captured of an Israeli soldier by militants in Gaza almost four years ago.

Muhammad Abu Tir was one of at least 60 top Hamas officials arrested and detained by Israel after Gilad Shalit was captured in 2006.

They were charged with belonging to an illegal organisation and associating with terrorists.

Nine other Hamas legislators have been released in recent months.

Israeli military officials told the Haaretz newspaper that their release was not connected to a prisoner swap deal for the now 23-year-old soldier.

'Be realistic'

"I don't want Shalit to remain in captivity, just as I did not like captivity," Israeli media quoted Mr Abu Tir as saying.

"But the Israeli leadership prevented the deal. The Israeli leadership must be realistic in handling this issue."

Hamas want hundreds of Palestinians held by Israel, including senior militant leaders that Israel holds responsible for the deaths of dozens of Israeli citizens, to be freed in exchange for Sgt Shalit's release.

Mr Abu Tir, known for his bright red henna-dyed beard, is the member of the Palestinian Legislative Council representing East Jerusalem.

The 58-year-old has spent nearly 30 years in Israeli jails.

Talks to free Sgt Shalit's in return for a number of Palestinian prisoners broke down last year.

Earlier this month Russian President Dimitry Medvedev called for Hamas to release Sgt Shalit "as soon as possible" during a meeting with Hamas leaders in the Syrian capital Damascus.

Sgt Shalit, 23, was captured in 2006 in a raid into southern Israel by Palestinian militants from Gaza.

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