Germany negotiating prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel — report
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Germany negotiating prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel — report

Arabic newspaper says Israel and Egypt both trust German team working to extract Israeli civilians and remains of soldiers from Gaza in exchange for inmates

A Palestinian security man closes the gate of the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza, after it was closed by Israel following the discovery of smuggling tunnels underneath the crossing, in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on January 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)
A Palestinian security man closes the gate of the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza, after it was closed by Israel following the discovery of smuggling tunnels underneath the crossing, in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on January 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

Germany is facilitating indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel over a possible exchange of Israeli captives and the remains of soldiers held in Gaza for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, an Arabic daily reported Thursday.

According to the London-based Al-Hayat, German envoys have visited the Gaza Strip to hold discussions with senior Hamas officials.

A source told the newspaper that German negotiator, Ernst Uhrlau, had been involved in the deal to secure the release of Gilad Shalit. Uhrlau is the former president of German intelligence service the BND.

According to the source, the negotiations are being conducted on two levels — via German diplomats in the Palestinian Authority, and a second track working out of Berlin — and that Israel and Egypt both trust the German team. If a deal is reached, the paper reports, Egypt will facilitate the exchange.

Germany and Egypt were previously involved in the deal for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for over 1,000 Palestinian security prisoners in 2011.

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)

On Sunday, Qatar’s special envoy to Gaza confirmed the existence of indirect talks between Israel and Hamas on solving simmering tensions and a humanitarian crisis in the coastal enclave.

“The US administration knows about the talks,” Muhammad al-Amadi told China’s state-run news agency Xinhua while visiting Gaza.

Left to right: Oron Shaul, Hadar Goldin and Avraham Mengistu. (Flash90/The Times of Israel)

His comment was the first official confirmation of the talks between Hamas and Israel, though negotiations for a long-term ceasefire and lifting of the blockade have long been reported in the Israeli and Palestinian press.

Two Israeli civilians who are said to be mentally ill — Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed — and who entered Gaza of their own volition in 2014 and 2015, respectively, are currently being held Hamas, along with the remains of two IDF soldiers: Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.

Hamas is keeping the Israelis as bargaining chips for a prisoner exchange in which it would seek to secure the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons.

Proposals recently reported in Israeli and Arab media have indicated Israel is willing to take a number of steps to increase the flow of goods to the Strip, but will not do so without the return of the bodies of  Shaul and Goldin. There is a worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza as the enclave faces a lack of electricity, potable water, and food.

Israel, along with Egypt, imposed a blockade of Gaza after Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas from smuggling weapons into Gaza. Goods are currently shipped to Israeli ports and then trucked into Gaza after screening by Israeli authorities.

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