A delegation of senior Hamas members has traveled to Cairo amid a report Saturday that Egypt is pressing the Islamist group to open talks with Israel over the release of captives.
According to a report in the Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper, senior Egyptian intelligence officials pressed Hamas to restart its negotiations with Israel for the release of two Israeli civilians and the remains of two IDF soldiers held in the Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported.
Hamas is currently holding the remains of IDF soldiers Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul and Lt. Hadar Goldin, who the army says were killed in the 2014 Gaza war, and is also believed to be detaining Avraham Mengistu and Juma Ibrahim Abu Anima, two Israeli men who crossed into Gaza on their own accord.
Hamas has long demanded Israel first release hundreds of Palestinians who were rearrested after they were freed in the 2011 Shalit deal before it would even enter into negotiations with Israel over a prisoner exchange.
In the past Egypt has mediated deals between Israel and Hamas.
The Hamas delegation arrived in Cairo this week for meetings with Egyptian security officials as Cairo and the Islamist terror organization that rules Gaza continue to improve long-tense ties.
The meetings are an extension of talks held by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Egyptian officials last week. After Haniyeh’s meetings, the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip reopened Saturday for three days, the first time it has been open this year.
Hamas last week called the rare visit by Haniyeh to Cairo, the first visit by the group’s top leader in over three years, “successful,” according to Egypt’s state-run news agency.
Egyptian officials said that the visit represents a desire by both sides to rebuild trust after tension since the 2013 military ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood group, Hamas’s mother movement. Authorities accused the group of supporting militants to carry out attacks in Egypt.
For most of the past decade, Egypt has been a quiet partner with Israel in the blockade on Hamas-ruled Gaza, stifling the economy and largely blocking its 2 million people from moving in and out of the territory.
Israel imposes the blockade to prevent Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007 and avowedly seeks to destroy the Jewish state, from importing weaponry.
In recent months, Cairo has increased the number of people allowed to exit through the Rafah Border Crossing, Gaza’s main gateway to the outside world. It also has begun to allow Gaza to import commercial goods through Rafah for the first time since 2013, and sent public signals that it is interested in improving relations.
AP contributed to this report.