Egypt said to offer formula for Hamas-Israel prisoner swap talks

Reported plan would require Gaza group to reveal fate of Israelis it holds after Jerusalem returns Palestinian corpses from 2014 summer war

Dov Lieber is a former Times of Israel Arab affairs correspondent.

Then Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh meets with Egyptian officials. (Ahmed Shaat/Flash90)
Then Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh meets with Egyptian officials. (Ahmed Shaat/Flash90)

Egypt has presented Hamas with a proposal that would allow prisoner exchange negotiations to begin between Israel and the Gaza-based terror group, a Palestinian newspaper reported Thursday.

For years, in order for negotiations to even begin, Hamas has demanded Israel release the Palestinians who were rearrested in the summer of 2014 after being set free in the swap for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. A Hamas official recently told The Times of Israel there are 58 such Hamas prisoners being held in Israel.

Hamas has been holding the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul since the two were killed in the Gaza Strip during the 2014 war there. The terror group is also believed to be holding three Israeli civilians — Avraham Abera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed and Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima — who are all believed to have entered the Gaza Strip of their own accord.

As part of the efforts to return the Israelis being held by the terror group, Israel has reportedly been having indirect contact with Hamas about possible prisoner deal talks — efforts that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted at.

According to Thursday’s report in the daily Al Quds, based on sources in Cairo, under Egypt’s formula Israel will first hand over the bodies of 39 Palestinians killed in the summer 2014 war, 19 of whom are Hamas members, in exchange for Hamas acknowledging the fate of Goldin and Shaul. Hamas has hinted that it is holding the two soldiers, whom the IDF ruled to have been killed in action, and has also implied that they could still be alive.

A Hamas prisoner released as part of the Shalit deal embraces his family member in Ramallah, October 18, 2011. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

In the second stage of the Egyptian plan, Israel will release the so-called “Shalit captives” and Hamas will enter into genuine prisoner exchange talks with the Jewish state, the report said. The talks would reportedly be mediated by Egyptian intelligence services.

The report added that Hamas’s position on the Egyptian formula is still unknown, and that no representative for the terror group would comment on the issue.

A high-level Hamas delegation, including the group’s political bureau chief, Ismail Haniyeh; and it’s Gaza chief, Yahya Sinwar, have been in Egypt since Saturday.

Yahya Sinwar (R) the new leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and senior Hamas official Ismail Haniyeh attend the funeral of Hamas official Mazen Faqha in Gaza city on March 25, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

After Hamas held an internal meeting of it leaders, who had gathered in Cairo from around the Middle East, Haniyeh said he met with Egyptian Intelligence Minister Khaled Fawzi. He said the two discussed Palestinian reconciliation between Hamas and its rival Fatah, which controls the West Bank.

Sources in Cairo told the London-based daily Al-Hayat that Fawzi and Haniyeh also discussed opening the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt and a possible prisoner exchange with Israel.

Hamas in recent months has made great efforts to improve its relationship with Egypt, especially after the terror group’s leaders were asked to leave their former headquarters in Qatar.

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