The paper quotes "informed sources close to the mediations" as saying that the U.S. secretly negotiated with the group through leaders of "the Palestinian popular resistance committees."
Last week, the previously unknown group calling itself "The Holy Jihad Brigades" issued a statement demanding the release of all Muslims held in U.S. prisons in return for the release of the two journalists. In fact, the paper reports that the public demand was not serious and that the group's "real demands" were that the U.S. press Israel to reopen the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Palestine and cease the shelling of "Palestinian activists'" residences.
According to the report, the mediators contacted a representative of a European country who in turn contacted U.S. and British diplomats. The paper's sources said in the report that members of a senior FBI delegation, who had arrived in the area a few days earlier, were also involved in the negotiations.
The announcement that the two journalists had converted to Islam as a reason for their release was only a camouflage to conceal the fact that the U.S. had agreed to the hostage-takers' demands, according to the sources cited in the article. A few days ago the Rafah crossing was reopened for a few hours daily, and the Israeli forces stopped shelling residences of activists in the past few days, noted the paper's sources.
When asked for a response by ABCNews.com, a State Department spokesperson refused to comment on the report in al Hayat. The department's stated policy has been that the United States does not negotiate with terrorists.