Hamas leader: Israel negotiating to get back soldiers’ bodies

Khaled Mashaal says EU officials appealed to Gaza-based group regarding return of remains captured during Gaza war

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal in Doha, Qatar, August 2014 (screen capture: Yahoo News)
Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal in Doha, Qatar, August 2014 (screen capture: Yahoo News)

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said Wednesday that, through a European intermediary, Israel has requested the return of the remains of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, two IDF soldiers killed during last summer’s 50-day war in the Gaza Strip.

Speaking to the London-based al-Araby al-Jadeed newspaper, Mashaal claimed that while European officials had appealed to the group with the Israeli request, Hamas had refrained from issuing an official response.

The Hamas leader declined to provide any further information regarding the ostensible negotiations.

Israel captured dozens of Hamas fighters during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.

In late March, al-Araby al-Jadeed reported that Israel had requested that European officials serve as mediators in negotiations with Hamas in a bid to recover the remains of the two soldiers. According to the report, Israeli security sources contacted German officials as well as those of several other European entities with the inquiry last month.

Neither Israel nor Hamas confirmed that report.

In October last year, Mohammed Nazzal, a senior figure in Hamas’s political wing, stressed that his group would demand that Israel “pay a price” for every bit of information regarding the whereabouts of the remains. Nazzal did not indicate what the group would demand in exchange for such information.

Israel has on several occasions freed live prisoners in exchange for the remains of its servicemen.

IDF soldiers Oron Shaul (left) and Hadar Goldin (right) (Flash90)
IDF soldiers Oron Shaul (left) and Hadar Goldin (right) (Flash90)

Goldin and Shaul were killed in separate incidents during fighting in Gaza. They were both declared dead based on forensic evidence acquired by the army, but their bodies were never recovered.

Israel has only negotiated directly with President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, not with the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip, which it considers a terror group, and with which it communicates only via third parties.

Backed by the so-called Middle East Quartet of the US, EU, UN and Russia, the Jewish state demands that Hamas recognize Israel, accept previous agreements and renounce terrorism as preconditions for direct negotiations.

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