Hamas demands release of Marwan Barghouti, the 'Palestinian Mandela,' report says

Senior Palestinian activist Marwan Barghouti (C) raises his arms in triumph as Israeli police usher him into court January 2, 2003 in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Marwan Barghouti with Israeli police on January 2, 2003, in Tel Aviv, Israel.David Silverman
  • Hamas is demanding that Israel releases Marwan Barghouti.

  • Some Palestinians regard Barghouti as a heroic Nelson Mandela figure.

  • He is serving five life sentences for his part in several deadly attacks on Israelis.

Hamas is demanding that Israel releases the high-profile Palestinian prisoner Marwan Barghouti amid tense cease-fire talks, The Associated Press reported.

As the most well-known prisoner held by Israel and a potential future Palestinian president, Barghouti's freedom is at the center of negotiations.

The Palestinian militant group's aims appear to be twofold — increase public support for their party and recognize Barghouti's rare position as a unifier among Palestinians, per the report.

"Hamas wants to show to the Palestinian people that they are not a closed movement. They represent part of the Palestinian social community. They are trying to seem responsible," Qadoura Fares from the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoner Affairs in the West Bank territory told The AP.

According to the think tank the European Council on Foreign Relations, Barghouti is "often described by Palestinians as the 'Palestinian Mandela.'" He is seen as a potential presidential successor to the aging Mahmoud Abbas.

Nelson Mandela was the leader of the resistance to the apartheid regime in South Africa who spent 27 years in prison. He went on to become the nation's first Black president.

Barghouti, 64, was a leading member of the secular Fatah movement and supported the peace process with Israel in the 1990s but became disillusioned. He went on to lead the Second Intifada (uprising) that begun in 2000.

Barghouti was arrested in 2002 and is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for his part in several deadly suicide bombing attacks on Israeli targets.

Throughout his trial, Barghouti refused to recognize the Israeli court's legitimacy and defend himself.

In the past, he has said he supports attacks on Israel's occupation of the West Bank but does not endorse the killing of Israelis within the pre-1967 border.

Palestinian woman looks at a mural depicting Jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti.
Palestinian woman looks at a mural depicting Jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti as she walks past a section of the Israeli barrier, near Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, September 24, 2020.REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

Despite decades in incarceration, Barghouti still enjoys widespread respect and support among all Palestinian factions.

He is the most popular politician among Palestinians, ahead of Abbas and Hamas' leader, Ismail Haniyeh, according to an opinion poll published in December.

Hamas' demands come as international mediators continue to search for an end to the conflict after nearly four months of fighting, which broke out following Hamas' October 7 attacks on Israel.

The attacks killed around 1,200 people in Israel, while roughly 240 others were taken hostage in Gaza.

Israel launched a series of devastating airstrikes and a ground invasion of the territory in response to the attacks, which have left more than 27,000 Palestinians dead so far.

Israel is demanding that Hamas releases over 100 hostages, while the latter is calling for Israel to cease its offensive and release thousands of prisoners.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under mounting pressure to reach a deal over the Israeli hostages as protesters continue to voice their anger over his handling of the situation.

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