Hamas said demanding release of 250 prisoners for info on missing Israelis

Terror group said to draft list of inmates; German official involved in 2011 prisoner swap for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit reportedly mediating

Hamas's leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, center, chants slogans with protesters during his visit to the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, April 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Hamas's leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, center, chants slogans with protesters during his visit to the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, April 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The Hamas terror group is demanding that Israel release 250 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for information on two Israeli captives in the Gaza Strip and on the remains of two IDF soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war, according to a Lebanese news report on Tuesday.

According to the Al-Akhbar daily, Hamas officials in Israeli prisons have drawn up the list of 250 prisoners it seeks freed in the first stage of the deal and has conveyed it to the Hamas leadership in the coastal enclave.

The daily said that a German mediator who was involved in the 2011 Shalit deal, which saw Israel release over 1,000 prisoners for captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, was again mediating between the sides.

Israel relayed its willingness to Hamas, by way of Egyptian mediators, to take steps toward a prisoner exchange deal with the Gaza-ruling terror group, the Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper reported Sunday. The London-based pan-Arab paper said the terms would be as outlined by Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in Gaza.

Reports last week said the proposal included provision for Israel to free a number of women, children and elderly Palestinian prisoners in exchange for information on slain IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were killed during fighting in July and August 2014 during a war with Hamas and whose bodies have since been held by the terror group.

The reported proposal would be modeled on a 2009 agreement that saw Israel release 20 female prisoners in exchange for video footage of Shalit, an IDF soldier who was held in Gaza after being captured by Hamas during a cross-border attack in 2006. Shalit was released in 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange in which Israel freed over 1,000 security prisoners, among them Sinwar.

IDF soldier Gilad Shalit seen in a video clip released by Hamas during his captivity (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in a video clip released by Hamas during his captivity (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

There was no mention in that report of Israeli citizens Avera Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are believed to held by Hamas after having entered Gaza of their own accord in 2014-2015. But the Tuesday report in the Lebanese daily said the information would also pertain to the two captives.

Relatives of Mengistu and al-Sayed have said they suffer from mental illness.

Last week, a senior Hamas official said the terror group was willing to enter talks “tomorrow” to return al-Sayed and Mengistu, as well as the bodies of Shaul and Goldin.

Families of Avra Mengistu and Hisham Al-Sayed hold a press conference calling for the release of the two Israeli citizens from Hamas captivity, on September 6, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Musa Dudin, a member of the Hamas political bureau, speaking on a Hamas-affiliated TV channel, said Israel had a “window of opportunity” that it could take advantage of before it would once again be forced to “negotiate under more difficult conditions,” apparently referring to the willingness to make a humanitarian gesture during the coronavirus crisis.

Dudin said “Israel knows what the demands are and that they should not be discussed in the media.”

His remarks came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a message to Hamas saying that Israel was prepared to take “constructive action” to bring back Israelis and soldiers’ remains held in Gaza.

A composite photo of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul, left, and Hadar Goldin, right.

Israel’s chief negotiator for the release of Gaza captives, Yaron Blum, in collaboration with the National Security Council and the defense establishment, is “committed to acting constructively with the aim of bringing back the soldiers’ bodies and missing civilians and putting an end to the issue,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement last Tuesday, adding that the premier was calling “for immediate dialogue between mediators” to facilitate a deal.

In the past, Hamas negotiators have refused to consider any deal to return the soldiers’ bodies and civilians that does not include Israel’s release of security prisoners who were freed in the Shalit deal and then rearrested over further violations.

In November, Blum said that Hamas was refusing to adopt a stance that would allow for real progress in talks for a possible prisoner swap.

A deal over the Israeli captives and remains is believed to be one of several issues holding up a long-term ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas following months of tensions and flare-ups.

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