Hamas would be willing to stop the rocket attacks on Israel in exchange for the release of members arrested by the Israeli army in the West Bank following the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teenagers on June 12, a senior official in the Gaza Strip said Thursday.
In a conversation with The Times of Israel, the Hamas official said that the Gaza-based group was seeking to free 56 prisoners who had been previously released by Israel in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal, saying they had not breached the terms of their release.
“If you have proof that the prisoners were involved in terrorist activities, then by all means, arrest them,” he said. “But you apprehended people who have no connection with the operations against Israel, and you know it.”
Israel maintains that Hamas is behind the abduction and killing of Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gil-Ad Sha’ar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, in the West Bank last month. Some Israeli officials have said that the operatives intended to use them as bargaining chips in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.
Israel says Hamas operatives Amer Abu Aysha and Marwan Kawasme, who have been missing from their homes since the incident, are behind the attacks; the two have yet to be apprehended and Hamas has denied involvement.
In the wake of the kidnapping, Israel launched a widespread crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank, arresting hundreds of the organization’s members and raiding their infrastructure. The three teens were abducted on June 12 and their bodies found on June 30.
The Hamas official also demanded that Israel uphold the terms of the November 2012 ceasefire agreed upon following the IDF’s Operation Pillar of Defense, and moreover bring all “aggression” against Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank to an immediate halt.
The official asserted that Israel violated the 2012 ceasefire agreement on many occasions, for example by disallowing the entry of construction materials to the Gaza Strip
When asked whether Hamas would agree to a 24- or 48-hour ceasefire, the official said that the organization would not unless the three requirements were met. “But [a cease fire declared by Israel] would be welcome,” the official said.
As for the opening of the Rafah border crossing, which had been sealed off by Egypt, the Hamas official said that his organization had initiated negotiations with Egyptian mediators, but added that no agreement had yet been reached. The official denied that other international factors were involved in the talks.
Earlier Thursday, Israeli forces targeted a Hamas operative in the northern Gaza Strip, according to an IDF statement. The terrorist was involved in rocket fire at Israel, the Army said.
Also Thursday, three Palestinian members of Islamic Jihad were killed after the IDF struck the car in which they were traveling.
Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.