Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met Thursday with the parents of Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin, whose body is being held by the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Bennett told Simcha and Leah Goldin that he will maintain regular contact with them and that “my door is always open to you.”
Also attending the meeting were outgoing National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, Israel’s hostage coordinator Yaron Bloom and the prime minister’s military secretary, Brig. Gen. Avi Bluth.
The Goldin family has been battling for the return of his body since he was killed during the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict. Leah accompanied then-president Reuven Rivlin on his farewell tour to the US last month to lobby the UN for his return.
Following Thursday’s meeting with Bennett, the Goldin family said in a statement that they had called on the prime minister “not to repeat the mistakes of the past, and to make the return of the soldiers and civilians a precondition for everything in the Gaza Strip.”
On Tuesday, it was reported that Egyptian mediators were optimistic that Israel and Hamas would soon implement the first stage of a prisoner exchange between the two sides, a critical step in stabilizing the fragile Gaza ceasefire following 11 days of fighting in May.
According to anonymous sources cited by the pro-Hamas Lebanese daily al-Akhbar, as part of an initial round of a prisoner deal, Hamas would trade information on the fate of two Israeli civilians, Avera Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, and the bodies of the two Israeli soldiers held by Hamas in Gaza, Goldin and Oron Shaul, for the release of some female Palestinian security prisoners.
The report didn’t detail the identities or the number of prisoners that would be freed.
Since the fighting between Israel and the Hamas terror group, Jerusalem has sought to impose heightened restrictions on Gaza, significantly limiting imports and exports. During the war, Israeli airstrikes and Palestinian rockets caused at least $290 million worth of damage to the Gaza Strip, international assessors reported last week.
Israeli officials have said they will condition allowing the reconstruction of Gaza on progress and easing the heightened restrictions on reaching a prisoner exchange with Hamas that secures the return of the two civilians and the two soldiers’ bodies.
But Hamas has regularly rejected the Israeli attempt to publicly tie the reconstruction of Gaza to the long-running attempt to reach a swap acceptable to both sides. Hamas’s Gaza governor, Yahya Sinwar, has publicly promised to secure the release of over a thousand prisoners in a potential deal.
Since the end of the fighting, Israel and Hamas have been holding indirect negotiations in Cairo, with Egyptian mediation, in an attempt to make progress on both the reconstruction and prisoner exchange issues. In apparent signs of progress, Israel has eased some of the new barriers to imports and exports.