Gazans call for mass prisoner release in exchange for Israeli kidnap victim

The activists demand that the Shiite group in Iraq holding Russian-Israeli Elizabeth Tsurkov tell Israel to free 5,000 terrorists for her freedom.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Palestinians in Gaza have called for an Iraqi group to release Russian-Israeli researcher Elizabeth Tsurkov, who was kidnapped in March, only if Israel frees thousands of terrorists in exchange.

The Prisoners’ Committee of the National and Islamic Forces’ coordinator, Zaki Dababesh, said in a demonstration on Monday that “our people in Iraq” have the “key” to “liberating prisoners” who “gave their blood and freedom in support of their religion and nation.”

It would be a sign of support for the Palestinian people’s “struggle” against Israel, he said, if they would demand the release of 5,000 jailed security prisoners as an equitable exchange for Tsurkov.

Tsurkov, a Princeton University doctoral candidate, traveled to Iraq on her Russian passport and, according to Arab sources, had initiated contact with the Iran-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah (“Battalions of the Party of God”) Shi’ite militia. While it is unknown what research she was conducting that necessitated such a meeting, Tsurkov is an extreme leftist, having published numerous articles smearing Israel and defending terrorist attacks on the Jewish state.

This background seemingly did not help her, as when the group discovered that she also held Israeli citizenship, they decided to imprison her.

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It may also be possible that Kata’ib Hezbollah’s masters in Tehran ordered the kidnapping because Tsurkov had written extensively against the Iran-backed Syrian regime.

Standing with family members of those imprisoned by Israel holding pictures of their loved ones, Dababesh himself vilified Tsurkov as a “terrorist of the usurping entity [i.e., Israel]” who “lives in Etzion, which is one of the most hateful and harmful Zionist settlements, separating the north of the West Bank from the south.”

The Palestinians made their demand at a rally cum press conference in front of Gaza’s Red Cross headquarters, although the Red Cross has not been in touch with Tsurkov ever since she was taken hostage four months ago.

In general, Muslim terrorist organizations, like Hamas in Gaza, do not allow the Red Cross access to any of their prisoners, thereby breaking international law. Hamas is holding two Israeli men with mental health issues who walked into Gaza in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

It has yet to permit the Red Cross to see them even though last year it claimed one of them, Hisham al-Sayed, was ill, releasing a picture of him in a hospital bed, in an effort to pressure Israel to agree to a prisoner deal.

While Dababesh said the “only way” to free Tsurkov is via a prisoner exchange, Israel is officially holding the Iraqi government responsible for her safety and return.

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Hamas itself has not commented on the kidnapping, and none of its officials were present at the rally to give it any kind of official backing.