Hamas is prepared to reach a prisoner exchange agreement with Israel through a third party, Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of the terror group that rules the Gaza Strip, said on Tuesday.
“We in Hamas are ready to start negotiations to achieve a deal through a third party mediator,” Haniyeh said in a speech marking the Palestinians’ annual Prisoners’ Day.
“The day will come when the occupation will pay the price and release our prisoners,” he said. “The freedom of the prisoners is the responsibility of all of us.”
Hamas, he said, will do its utmost to secure the release of prisoners held by Israel and “end their suffering.”
Two Israeli civilians and two slain soldiers are held by Hamas. During the 2014 Gaza war, Hamas terrorists captured the remains of soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul. In the following year, two apparently mentally ill Israeli civilians, Avraham Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, on separate occasions entered the Gaza Strip of their own volition and were taken captive by Hamas.
Addressing Palestinian prisoners, Haniyeh said: “Your case is at the center of our attention and the release of the prisoners is at the top of our agenda. We are discussing this case both publicly and non-publicly.”
A statement issued by Hamas on the occasion of Prisoners’ Day said that the terror group holds “powerful cards” that would force Israel to release Palestinian prisoners.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday during Memorial Day evernts that Israel does not “forget our missing [soldiers], Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, even for a single moment, and [we] are committed to returning the boys home.”
Hamas has demanded the release of ex-prisoners who were rearrested by Israel after they were freed in the 2011 Gild Shalit prisoner swap, as a precondition for entering negotiations to reach a new agreement. As part of the Shalit deal, Israel released 1027 Palestinian prisoners. The agreement came five years after Palestinian terrorists captured Shalit in southern Israel.
Hamas has called on Egypt to intervene with Israel to release the former prisoners who have since been rearrested by the IDF. Palestinians say that Israel has rearrested more than 100 former prisoners who were released as part of the Shalit prisoner exchange agreement.
Several thousand Palestinians protested in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Tuesday to mark the annual day in support of Palestinians jailed by Israel. A few thousand gathered in the Gaza Strip, while there were smaller demonstrations across the West Bank.
Haniyeh’s statements came as a senior Hamas delegation arrived in Cairo on Tuesday for talks with Egyptian officials on the recent mass demonstrations along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, as well as reconciliation efforts between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah.
It was not clear whether the issue of a prisoner swap would also be discussed during the talks in Cairo. Previous reports in Arab media outlets have claimed that the Egyptians were acting as mediators between Israel and Hamas in an attempt to reach an agreement on a prisoner exchange.
The Hamas delegation consists of senior figures Saleh Arouri, Musa Abu Marzouk, Khalil Al Hayya and Hussam Badran.
The visit comes amid reports that the Egyptians have been pressuring Hamas to halt the weekly demonstrations along the border between Gaza and Israel.