Hamas denies rejecting Israeli prisoner exchange offer

Following Israeli negotiator’s claim that it turned down swap proposal, official in terror group says Israel just trying to ‘calm anger’ of dead soldiers’ families

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

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

A Hamas official on Wednesday denied rejecting an Israeli offer to free 18 Palestinians and hand over 19 bodies seized during the 2014 war in Gaza in exchange for the bodies of two IDF soldiers who fell in the 50-day conflict.

The terror group also poured cold water on an a reported Israeli proposal to hand over two Israelis who crossed into Gaza of their own accord, and are believed held by the organization, in exchange for dozens of Gazans who have been arrested after crossing into Israel illegally.

Instead, a senior Hamas official told the Turkish newspaper Milliyet that Tuesday’s account by Israel’s chief hostage negotiator Lior Lotan about failed moves to reach a deal “were not worth referring to,” Israel Radio reported.

Lotan had said Hamas demanded that Israel release Palestinian prisoners who are not from Gaza and who are not connected to the 2014 war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.

But the Hamas source said Israel had not made any “real effort” to reach a swap agreement and that the Netanyahu government needed to sign “a new exchange deal” to bring its boys home.

Lior Lotan (photo credit: IDF Herzliya)
Lior Lotan (photo credit: IDF Herzliya)

Lotan’s report, he said, was merely an attempt by Israel’s government “to soften the anger” of the families of the soldiers involved. The organization would not give Israel any information “for free,” he added.

Lotan said Tuesday that Hamas was going against “norms throughout the world at the end of a confrontation.”

“You exchange captives and soldiers,” he said. “Hamas doesn’t think in the way that we would expect an organization with a political infrastructure to think, an organization that rules a population.”

He added: “In an unprecedented fashion, Hamas responded negatively to the [Israeli] proposal and laid down preconditions… We cannot accept these preconditions, it wouldn’t be right. We have enough tools and avenues to explore despite this.”

An agreement with Hamas would potentially involve the return of the bodies of two fallen soldiers — 22-year-old Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul and 23-year-old Lt. Hadar Goldin, killed in action during the 2014 war — and of the two Israeli men who crossed into Gaza on their own accord, Avraham Abera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed.

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