Israel and the Hamas terror group have reportedly put forward new demands in ongoing indirect talks about a possible prisoner exchange deal.
In the talks, which are said to be mediated by Egypt, Israel offered to release an undisclosed number of female prisoners, minors and Hamas MPs being held without charge, in exchange for video proof of the fate of three Israelis believed to be held by the terror group, the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reported Wednesday.
The three Israelis — Avraham Abera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed and Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima — are all said to have entered the Gaza Strip of their own accord. Hamas is also holding the bodies of Oren Shaul and Hadar Goldin, two IDF soldiers who were killed in the Strip during the 2014 Gaza war.
Hamas is reported to have refused the Israeli offer, which came after Israel rejected Hamas’s demand that it free 55 prisoners rearrested following their release in the 2011 Gilad Shalit deal, in which over 1,000 Palestinian security prisoners were released in exchange for the captive Israeli soldier.
In exchange for information on the fate of the Israeli captives, Hamas also demanded the release of a number of prisoners arrested during the wave of terror attacks that began in October 2015, the report said.
While Israel has played down the reports of progress in the Egyptian-mediated negotiations for a prisoner swap, an unnamed Palestinian source told the London-based Arabic Al-Hiyat newspaper earlier this month that negotiations have “come a long way.”
At a memorial marking three years since the 2014 Gaza conflict, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinted last week of recently increased Israeli efforts to return the Israeli citizens and the bodies of IDF soldiers being held by Hamas.
“Our commitment to return home Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul is still firm. We have not let up from this sacred mission, in particular in recent days. The same applies to Avraham Abera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, Israeli citizens who are held in the Gaza Strip by a brutal enemy,” he said, failing to mention Abu Ghanima, the third Israeli civilian held by Hamas.
President Reuven Rivlin also stressed at the event at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl military cemetery that Israel would not cease working for the return of Shaul and Goldin’s bodies, saying it “is our moral and public obligation.”
Since the capture of their sons’ bodies, the Shaul and Goldin families have waged public campaigns for their return, with the Goldins recently releasing releasing a video urging the government to up its pressure on Hamas until the two soldiers’ bodies are returned.