As Israeli and Turkish negotiators were set to meet Sunday in Rome to reach an agreement on normalizing ties, the families of two soldiers killed in the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip on Saturday demanded that their sons be returned as part of any deal with Ankara.
The families of Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oron Shaul planned a protest tent outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem should a deal not involve the return of their sons.
Goldin and Shaul were killed in two separate incidents during Operation Protective Edge against Hamas. Though neither body was recovered, the army has classed both soldiers as “killed in action” based on forensic evidence.
Shaul’s family told the press at their home that Netanyahu must not sign a deal with Ankara unless it stipulates the return of the two soldiers’ remains.
“My son went out to war in Gaza, two years have passed and he hasn’t returned yet,” Zehava Shaul, the soldier’s mother, said. She said Netanyahu has to make good on his promises and bring her son home.
Goldin’s family said that by signing a deal with Turkey, “the prime minister will fail the first significant test following Operation Protective Edge, and will give a medal to Hamas for kidnapping Goldin and [Sgt. Oron] Shaul.”
“The time has come for Israel to be the one to dictate the price to Hamas for the kidnapping and detention of soldiers, and not the way we’ve been used to in the past three years — to pay a heavy price to our foes,” Army Radio quoted the Goldin family saying.
Yesh Atid party MK Haim Yelin said he would join the protest in Jerusalem if the deal doesn’t bring Goldin and Shaul home.
“It’s unacceptable that a deal with Turkey won’t include the return of our boys home,” he said in a statement.
In the face of the families’ criticism, Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that “Israel is making constant efforts – both openly and in secret – to bring IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, may their memories be blessed, as well as the two Israeli citizens being held in the Gaza Strip, back to Israel.”
“Israel will not cease its activity until the mission is accomplished,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.
If an agreement is reached, it would go before Israel’s security cabinet for approval on Wednesday, according to media reports and an Israeli official who requested anonymity.
Analysts say it is very likely that an agreement will be concluded on Sunday.
Once tight relations between Israel and key NATO member Turkey were significantly downgraded after Israeli commandos staged a deadly pre-dawn raid on a six-ship flotilla in May 2010 as it tried to run the blockade on Gaza. Ten protesters attacked the Israeli soldiers and were killed in the ensuing firefight.
Two of Turkey’s key conditions for normalization — an apology and compensation — have largely been met, leaving its third demand, that Israel lift its blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, as the main obstacle.
According to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, the two sides have reached a compromise whereby Turkey would send aid for Palestinians via the Israeli port of Ashdod rather than directly to Gaza.
A meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Secretary of State John Kerry is also expected on Sunday in the Italian capital to discuss the state of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.