The Hamas terror group warned Sunday that Israel will be responsible for the consequences unless more medical equipment for dealing with the coronavirus is brought into the Gaza Strip.
“Israel will be the one that bears responsibility for an outbreak of the virus in the Gaza Strip; and therefore it must make it easier for shipments of aid to arrive and it is the one who needs to send these medical means,” said Khalil al-Hayya, the deputy Hamas leader in Gaza, according to the Ynet news site.
As of Saturday, there were 13 confirmed coronavirus cases in the coastal enclave.
A senior Israeli source told Channel 13 last week that Hamas was deeply concerned about a potential spread of the coronavirus in the densely crowded Strip and was interested in a prisoner exchange deal with Israel that would include medical assistance.
Gaza, under an Israeli-imposed blockade since 2007, is one of the most densely populated territories on Earth and has a struggling health system. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent arms from reaching Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups there.
Gaza’s Hamas rulers last week temporarily reopened the border crossing with Egypt, shut due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, to allow hundreds of Palestinians to return.
All those returning would be put into compulsory 21-day quarantine, which could be extended, interior ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bozm said.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said Friday that he was optimistic about reaching an agreement with Israel and that the terror group was ready for indirect negotiations, adding that the coronavirus crisis had created a “historic junction” to progress on these talks.
“We have four prisoners and we are ready for indirect talks,” Haniyeh said in a television interview with the Gaza-based al-Araby TV network. “I’m optimistic about the possibility of reaching an agreement with the occupation in order to complete a prisoner exchange deal and achieve our goals.”
Haniyeh gave a long list of demands that Israel must meet ahead of talks, including the release of all sick prisoners, child prisoners, elderly prisoners, female prisoners and prisoners who were released in the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange who were afterwards rearrested on charges of subsequent terror attacks.
His comments came a day after Hebrew media reported progress toward a possible deal, citing both Palestinian and Israeli sources.
A senior Israeli source told Channel 13 that “an exceptional and rare opportunity has been created to reach a prisoner deal with Hamas.”
Channel 13 said the deal would include the return of two Israeli civilians, Avera Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are believed to held by Hamas after entering Gaza of their own accord in 2014-2015, as well as the remains of two Israeli soldiers, Sergeant First Class Oron Shaul and Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, killed in action during the 2014 Gaza war.
In exchange Israel would free an undisclosed number of Palestinian prisoners.
The source said Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar was signaling that conditions were ripe for a deal, but warned that “if we do not act quickly the opportunity will pass.”
Channel 12 cited Palestinian sources as saying a senior Hamas delegation met in Cairo last week with Egyptian intelligence to discuss a prisoner swap. According to the sources, Musa Dudin, a member of the Hamas political bureau, was one of the members of the delegation.
Channel 12 cited Hamas sources as saying the sides were arguing over the group’s demand for the release of Palestinians were rearrested after being freed in the Shalit deal.
Shalit was released by Hamas in 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange in which Israel freed over 1,000 security prisoners, among them Sinwar. Several of them have since been involved in terrorist attacks against Israelis.