Egypt, Hamas agree on proposal for prisoner swap with Israel — report

Ostensible deal said part of a larger agreement that would pave the way for the reconstruction of the Strip

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

IDF soldiers Oron Shaul (left) and Hadar Goldin (right) (Flash90)
IDF soldiers Oron Shaul (left) and Hadar Goldin (right) (Flash90)

Hamas and Egypt have reached agreement on the details of a prisoner exchange between the terror group and Israel, the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar reported on Wednesday.

According to the report, the agreement was reached during recent meetings between Egyptian intelligence officials and Hamas leaders.

Last week, a senior Egyptian delegation headed by Sameh Nabil, director of the Palestine Portfolio in Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, met for five hours with Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Yehya Sinwar in the Gaza Strip.

During the discussions, the two sides reached agreement on the number and details of the Palestinian prisoners who would be included in a prisoner swap with Israel, the report said.

A draft of the purported deal has been presented to the Israeli “inner cabinet” for approval, according to the newspaper, a possible reference to the security cabinet. However, the cabinet last week rejected some of the names of the prisoners slated for release, it added.

One of the names ostensibly rejected by Israel is Hassan Salameh, a Hamas terrorist serving 48 life sentences and another 30 years for his role in a wave of terror attacks against Israelis. Salameh, a former commander of Hamas’s military wing, Izaddin Al Qassam, was arrested in 1996.

Illustrative: Hamas members watch as a bus carrying Palestinian prisoners arrives at the Rafah crossing with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip on October 18, 2011. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90)

Hamas is also demanding the release of scores of former prisoners who were rearrested by Israel after they were freed as part of the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange. Hamas insists that the former prisoners be released as a precondition for entering negotiations to reach a new prisoner agreement — a demand that has been rejected by Israel.

The newspaper said that Israel has made it clear to the Egyptians that the former prisoners can be released only in the framework of a new prisoner exchange agreement because they have been sentenced once again after violating the terms of the Shalit deal.

The Egyptians, the report said, have asked Hamas for information about two slain IDF soldiers whose remains it is believed to be holding in the Gaza Strip. The two, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, were killed during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, which has since refused to provide any details about them.

The terror group is also believed to be holding two Israeli civilians who entered Gaza of their own volition, Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed.

Avraham Avera Mengistu, 28, who Israel believes is being held captive by Hamas. (Facebook)

The Egyptians are proposing that Israel release jailed Palestinian minors and women in return for information about the condition of the soldiers, the report said.

It said Egypt’s General Intelligence Service was hoping to achieve a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas as part of package that would include a long-term truce and a Hamas pledge to stop building cross-border attack tunnels and preparing for war.

The reported proposed package also calls for dialogue between Hamas and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In return, Hamas would be rewarded with the lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip, the reopening of the border crossings in the coastal enclave, and freedom of travel for its leaders. In addition, the Arab countries would resume financial aid to institutions in the Gaza Strip, the newspaper said.

It said that the Egyptians and the Arabs were demanding that Hamas, in return, distance itself from Iran.

The Egyptian intelligence officials who visited the Gaza Strip last week discussed with Hamas leaders the latest developments surrounding the proposed prisoner swap and asked that a senior team from the terror group arrive in Cairo for further talks on this subject, the report said.

On Tuesday, a Hamas delegation headed by senior officials Saleh Arouri and Musa Abu Marzouk arrived in the Egyptian capital for talks with intelligence officials on the proposed prisoner exchange agreement, the dispute with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction and the mass demonstrations along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Informed sources told the newspaper that Hamas had told the Egyptians that it was not opposed to “ending the issues related to the 2014 war” — a reference to the two missing IDF soldiers — as part of a comprehensive agreement that would pave the way for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, a new prisoner swap and solidifying the current truce with Israel.

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