A high-ranking Hamas official stated that Israel and the Islamist group were poised to kick-start negotiations over the returning of the remains of two Israel Defense Forces soldiers killed during the war this summer in Gaza, amid indications a deal on the issue may be in the works.
Mohammed Nazzal, a senior figure in Hamas’s political wing, said talks on the retrieval of the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul would probably begin later this month in Cairo, Israel Radio reported. In an interview with a Hamas-affiliated website, he stressed that his group would demand that Israel “pay a price” for every bit of information regarding the whereabouts of the soldiers’ remains.
Nazzal did not indicate what the group would demand in exchange for such information.
Goldin and Shaul were killed in separate incidents during fighting in Gaza during the summer’s 50-day military campaign, and were both declared dead based on evidence the army acquired, but their bodies were never recovered by Israel.
The return of Goldin and Shaul’s remains is expected to be near the top of Israel’s list of demands in the ceasefire negotiations with Hamas in Cairo, scheduled to begin later this month. It’s unclear what the contours of such a deal would be, but it’s likely Hamas sees it as an opportunity to free prisoners held by Israel.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Lior Lotan, a retired IDF colonel, as the new government coordinator on the retrieval of imprisoned Israelis, including the two soldiers’ remains. Lotan replaced David Meidan, who held the position of coordinator for three years.
Lotan previously headed the Prisoners and Missing Persons Military Intelligence Division and took part in the negotiations with Hezbollah toward retrieving the bodies of three IDF soldiers and the release of an Israeli citizen who had been abducted by the Lebanese terror group.
Last month, a senior Hamas official in Gaza claimed the group was nearing a deal with Israel. “The actual field work has been done,” the official told the Israel Hayom daily.
“However, it’s hard to say that we are on the verge of signing a deal to release prisoners,” he added.
The official was responding to a Facebook post by Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri, who asserted that “future negotiations may lead to a new deal for the release of as many prisoners as possible.”
Israel, for its part, has yet to confirm any breakthrough in negotiations. Lotan’s appointment, however, may signal that progress has been made in the indirect talks with Hamas.