The Hamas terror group is prepared to make a “comprehensive deal” with Israel that will include returning the Israelis it is holding in the Gaza Strip in exchange for an airport and seaport, the Lebanese-based Al-Akhbar newspaper reported Thursday.
The pro-Hezbollah news site said that Hamas leaders have been speaking with officials in Cairo in efforts to ease the dire economic situation in the coastal enclave. The talks reportedly became more urgent as tit-for-tat attacks between Israel and Hamas have escalated in recent days.
Gaza faces a lack of electricity, drinkable water, and food. Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on the Strip to prevent Hamas from importing weapons and other goods that could be used to build fortifications or tunnels.
Israel blames Hamas for the dire situation, accusing the terror group of diverting millions in aid to purchase weapons, dig attack tunnels, manufacture rockets and train its military wing, instead of using the money for the welfare of its people.
The situation has also been made worse by an ongoing dispute between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which has cut salaries it pays to workers in Gaza and has imposed various sanctions, including cutting of payments for electricity supplies to Gaza.
Al-Akhbar reported that there are two main difficulties facing any bid to improve the situation.
The first is that the PA does not want Gaza, which is supposed to be under its control, to become an independent territory run by Hamas. It has threatened to block any move that would establish the Strip as a separate entity.
The other difficulty is the Israeli demand that any improvement of conditions in Gaza be predicated on returning the Israelis held captive in the Palestinian enclave.
Two Israeli men — Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed — and the remains of two fallen soldiers — Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin — are believed held captive by the terrorist group in the Gaza Strip.
Earlier this month Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said, “We’re asking for the most obvious, humane humanitarian gesture — at least letting the Red Cross see our captives and fallen soldiers. After that it will be much easier, not necessarily to reach a long-term ‘hudna’ (ceasefire) but to give humanitarian aid to the residents of Gaza.”
Thursday’s report said that Hamas had told Egypt it was willing to negotiate a deal that would include returning the captured Israelis.
Hamas has refused to grant aid groups access to them, in violation of international law.
According to Al-Akhbar, Egypt said it will also do what it can to ease the situation in the coastal enclave, including keeping the Rafah crossing between Sinai and Gaza open. Egypt had initially opened the Rafah crossing for the holy month of Ramadan, which ended last week, but now says it will keep it open until Eid al-Adha, which this year ends on August 25.
The move comes after years that have seen Egypt open its sole border crossing with the Strip only sporadically and for short intervals.