Israel-Hamas prisoner exchange talks delayed by political uncertainty – report
Indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas for a prisoner swap are being held up by political uncertainty in the Jewish state, an unnamed defense official told Walla News on Friday.
Hamas holds two Israeli civilians in captivity – Hisham al-Sayed and Avera Mengistu – as well as the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.
The official told the news site that the Egyptian-mediated talks “have not stopped,” but the potential change of government is causing them to fall behind schedule.
The defense source added that Israel continues to insist that it will not release any convicted murderer of Israelis in exchange for the prisoners. He said Egypt understands the Israeli position linking the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip following last month’s conflict with the return of captured Israelis.
On Monday, Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar said Hamas was ready for “immediate negotiations” to achieve a prisoner exchange.
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Sinwar made the comment following a meeting with Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel. The top Egyptian spy visited the coastal enclave after a series of meetings in Tel Aviv and Ramallah with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Israel and Hamas conclude 11 days of fighting earlier this month during which the terrorist group launched thousands of rockets at Israeli towns and villages, and Israel launched hundreds of airstrikes in the Gaza Strip.
The last major exchange of prisoners between Israel and Hamas took place in 2011. In a controversial move, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized the release of 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners in exchange for captive soldier Gilad Shalit.
One of the prisoners released during the exchange was Sinwar, who had been sentenced to life in Israel for murder. He played a key role in Shalit’s negotiations, with one of the Israeli negotiators later saying: “To [Sinwar’s] will, there would be agreement, and at his will, there would be no agreement.
It is not known how many prisoners Hamas will demand in return for the two living Israelis and the two bodies. After Sinwar’s meeting with Kamel, the Hamas leader cryptically told reporters to “write the number 1111”.
“You will remember it well [in the future]”Sinwar said.
Hamas has always said it rejects the link between the reconstruction of Gaza after the recent hostilities and an agreement with Israel on the captives.
“We will not allow the prisoners’ case to be linked to reconstruction, or to the siege, or to Palestinian rights. Our brothers in Egypt understand this, ”senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya, who is Sinwar’s deputy in the Gaza Strip, said on Monday.
Al-Hayya accused Israel of “delaying” a possible ceasefire agreement by not accepting the terms of the terrorist group.
“The Israeli occupation is not serious at this point. If they were serious, they could have moved on. We are not the ones who hold on [the issue]Al-Hayya said.
While an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire ended the fighting between Israel and Hamas, the truce remains tenuous. None of the underlying problems that Hamas invokes in attacking Israel have been resolved.
Egypt has reportedly invited Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to talks in Cairo on a long-term ceasefire. Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi visited the Egyptian capital on Sunday.
Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.