Egypt has notified the Hamas terror group that Israel says any long-term truce negotiations must include the subject of a prisoner exchange between the sides, according to a Saturday report.
Hamas has so far insisted on separating prisoner negotiations from any discussions related to a potential long-term truce or the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, sources told the London-based Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper.
Two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israel Defense Forces soldiers are currently being held in Gaza. Avraham Avera Mengistu and Hisham a-Sayed entered the Strip of their own accord, and their families say they suffer from mental illness. 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.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli government came under harsh criticism for not demanding a prisoner swap as part of the original deal to end the recent fighting.
However, sources told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that Cairo informed Hamas of the prisoner swap request after Israel linked it to any further negotiations.
The message was passed to the terror group in its third meeting with the Egyptian security delegation since the ceasefire began last Friday.
Meanwhile, the Walla news site reported that the head of the Egyptian intelligence service Abbas Kamel, will arrive in Israel on Sunday for talks with Netanyahu and National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, as well as other senior security officials.
The report said Kamel will also visit Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas before he travels to Gaza for further talks on stabilizing the ceasefire, which could include the matter of a potential prisoner exchange.
Additionally, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi will fly to Cairo on Sunday for talks with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry.
The reports came after Defense Minister Benny Gantz said earlier this week that Israel will not permit the full reconstruction of Gaza or the entry of any aid that is not humanitarian, until the terror group releases the two Israeli civilians and the two bodies.
Hamas officials in the terror group told the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper in response that they “cannot be blackmailed.”
Israel has over the years worked to secure the release of the soldiers’ bodies and the civilians, often using the Egyptian military, which maintains ties with both Jerusalem and Hamas, as an intermediary.
Hamas has sought, in exchange, the release of Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails — members of Hamas and of other terror groups.
Some of the prisoners were freed during the 2011 prisoner exchange deal but re-arrested during a 2014 crackdown on the terror group in the West Bank following the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers.
Meanwhile, a week after a ceasefire brought an end to 11 days of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, the Israel Defense Forces is reportedly already preparing for the next round of fighting, with senior army officials said concerned an escalation from the Gaza-based terror group could come at any time.
Hamas officials have also threatened to resume rocket attacks if Israel seeks to impose a new status quo on Gaza following the recent fighting, after some Israeli officials called for a harsher response to the terror group, including the renewal of assassinations of Hamas leaders.