Senior Hamas officials confirmed Wednesday that their group was in talks over a possible prisoner exchange with Israel, but said the deal had been rejected for not meeting their minimum demands.
Reports have circulated in Israeli media in recent days of talks with the rulers of Gaza Strip to secure the release of three Israeli men who crossed into the coastal territory of their own accord: Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, as well as Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima, whose presence in Gaza is unconfirmed. Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, also holds the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who the army determined were killed in action in the 2014 Gaza war.
A senior Hamas source told The Times of Israel that it wanted Israel to release 60 members of the terror group arrested after being freed in an earlier exchange.
“Only after that can we move forward in the negotiations between the sides,” the source said.
An Israeli source confirmed that talks were ongoing but said “we are not there yet.”
A spokesperson for Hamas’s military wing said Israel’s offer had not met their “minimum threshold of demands,” Al-Jazeera reported.
It was the first time confirmation was given by a senior official in Hamas’s military wing that such a deal had been offered, but the sides remain in the early stages of negotiating, according to the senior representative.
The military wing official emphasized that Hamas was only interested in a “full exchange,” as opposed to the “partial” ones that Israel had previously offered in which one prisoner was to be exchanged for another.
Israel, through a mediator, offered to release Hamas member Bilal Razaineh in return for either Mengistu or Sayed in what was described as a “humanitarian” exchange, as all three are considered to have mental health issues.
Hamas demands that Israel release all prisoners from the 2011 exchange for Gilad Shalit who were rearrested in 2014 when three Israeli teens were abducted in the West Bank (it later emerged that they had been killed almost immediately) before any advancement in negotiations between the parties can take place.
It was the latest in a series of reports that mediators — Egypt or Qatar, or both — are involved in negotiating a prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel. Hamas officials have in the past alternately confirmed and denied the reports.
Speaking to The Times of Israel, the senior Hamas source denied that Egypt was heavily involved in the talks.