Hamas denies reports of prisoner swap discussions with Israel
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Hamas denies reports of prisoner swap discussions with Israel

Terror group’s leaders say talks aren’t focused on long-term ceasefire, but rather stabilizing 2014 truce, Hamas prisoners’ conditions, and status of Temple Mount

A Palestinian Hamas police officer looks at a billboard bearing a portrait of slain Israeli soldier Oron Shaul in Gaza City on December 29, 2017. The writing in Arabic reads: ''As long as our heroes don't see freedom and light: This captive will never see freedom'' (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)
A Palestinian Hamas police officer looks at a billboard bearing a portrait of slain Israeli soldier Oron Shaul in Gaza City on December 29, 2017. The writing in Arabic reads: ''As long as our heroes don't see freedom and light: This captive will never see freedom'' (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED)

The Hamas terror group on Tuesday denied a Palestinian report that indirect talks with Israel include negotiations over a prisoner swap deal that would see Palestinian terror convicts released by Israel in exchange for two Israeli citizens and the bodies of two IDF soldiers believed to be held in the Gaza Strip.

Senior Hamas member Ismail Radwan told Gaza’s Dunya al-Watan news site that the talks also are not focusing on a long-term ceasefire deal, but rather on stabilizing the truce agreed to after Operation Protective Edge in 2014,  as well as the conditions of Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails and the status of the Temple Mount compound, including the Al Aqsa Mosque, in Jerusalem.

“What is being discussed is understandings to reinforce the ceasefire in accordance with the 2014 agreement,” Radwan said.

According to the Hamas-linked al-Resala daily, leader Ismail Haniyeh said the group has conveyed to Israel — through Egyptian mediators — three demands regarding security prisoners in Israeli jails who have recently rioted and attacked guards and are threatening to start a hunger strike.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh flashes a ‘V for victory’ sign on March 27, 2019, next to the rubble of what was once his office in Gaza City, which was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike two days earlier. (Hamas)

Hamas demands that Israel stops blocking cellphone reception in the jails, stops the Israel Prisons Service’s “punishing” of security prisoners, and renews family visits, Haniyeh said.

Haniyeh added that an Egyptian security delegation visited the Gaza Strip Monday evening and gave Hamas a schedule for implementing a number of understandings said to have been agreed to between the terror group and Israel to calm the situation.

Hamas official Isam al-Daalees told Falastin, a local Gaza newspaper, that the schedule will be presented to other Palestinian factions active in the Strip for approval.

“Some of the understandings will be implemented before the Israeli elections, while other parts will be delayed until after the elections, including projects that require long periods of time for implementation,” he said.

According to al-Daales, the understandings include agreements on crossings, electricity supply, fishing zones, temporary employment projects and construction projects. An electrical power line and a gas line for a power plant are reportedly among those that will be delayed until after the April 9 elections.

A Palestinian youth walks towards the Gaza strip’s sole electricity plant, which provides a fifth of the embattled region’s power needs, after it stopped working at midnight the previous night due to lack of fuel as per local officials, on February 15, 2018. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP)

Al-Daales also warned that if Israel backtracks from these understandings, the “resistance factions” will respond.

“The people and its factions and resistance are able to achieve their rights. The marches are ongoing until they achieve our people’s goal of breaking the siege on Gaza,” he said.

The statements came after the Hamas-affiliated Al-Quds TV station reported earlier in the day that talks for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas amid a recent spike in violence had addressed the possibility of a prisoner swap between the two sides, citing sources in the terror group.

Hamas is demanding the release of dozens of its members who were set free from Israeli prisons in a previous exchange but then rearrested years later, according to the report. Israel is demanding the return of two Israeli civilians believed to be held in the Gaza Strip, and the remains of two Israeli soldiers believed held by Hamas.

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

Israeli civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed both crossed into Gaza of their own accord in 2014 and 2015, respectively. The bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul were snatched by Hamas in the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge. The families of those held in Gaza and the soldiers have in the past accused the government of not doing enough to secure the release of their loved ones, or bring their remains home.

Hisham al-Sayed, who wandered into Gaza in April 2015 and has been missing and believed held by Hamas ever since. (Army Radio)

The Goldin family responded to the initial reports Tuesday morning, calling it “election spin that plays with the families’ feelings.”

“Under the current government, we have learned on our own that when there are media reports, it means that there is no agreement to bring the boys home, and that once again the government has missed an opportunity,” the family said in a statement.

The talks, brokered by Egyptian mediators, have reportedly stalled, with neither side willing to budge on their demands. A Hamas source said Tuesday will be critical for reaching an understanding to reduce the violence.

Palestinian protesters run for cover from tear gas canisters fired by Israeli forces during clashes amid a mass-demonstration marking the first anniversary of the “March of Return” protests, near the border with Israel east of Gaza City on March 30, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Hamas, a Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, has been the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip after it seized the territory from the Palestinian Authority in 2007.

Last week there was a sharp increase in violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip after rockets were fired into central Israel, drawing retaliatory airstrikes.

Egyptian mediators, shuttling between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, have been engaged in exhaustive efforts to broker a long-term ceasefire deal. Preliminary understandings between the sides reportedly included Hamas making arrangements for preventing violence during mass protests along the border it organized on Saturday.

An infant’s swing outside the home of the Wolf family in the central Israeli village of Mishmeret, which was destroyed in the early morning hours of March 25, 2019 by a rocket fired from Gaza. (Jack Guez/AFP)

After Hamas reined in the protests, Israel reopened two border crossings into Gaza and also extended a fishing zone off the coast of the Palestinian enclave this week.

However, a hunger strike threat by Palestinian prisoners held in Israel to protest an intensifying crackdown on illicit cellphone usage among inmates could further complicate the delicate negotiations.

The prisoners have said they will begin their strike on Sunday, two days before Israel’s national elections. The strike will be observed by inmates affiliated with Hamas, Fatah and other Palestinian factions.

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