Hamas said refusing to return Israelis as part of aid package
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Hamas said refusing to return Israelis as part of aid package

Arabic daily reports terror group will only release citizens, soldiers' bodies in 'exchange deal' for hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners

Armed members of the Hamas terror group take part in a march in the streets of Gaza City to mark the first anniversary of a deal which saw the exchange of 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, on October 18, 2012. (Wissam Nassar/Flash90)
Armed members of the Hamas terror group take part in a march in the streets of Gaza City to mark the first anniversary of a deal which saw the exchange of 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, on October 18, 2012. (Wissam Nassar/Flash90)

Hamas has refused to return Israeli citizens and the bodies of IDF soldiers it holds as part of an agreement to provide humanitarian help to the Gaza Strip, an Arabic daily reported Saturday, and is conditioning any release on Israel freeing hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners.

According to the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat, Hamas is weighing three proposals seeking to address the security and humanitarian conditions in Gaza, two of which would see the terror group release the Israelis and agree to a truce in exchange for the opening of border crossings to all goods.

Hamas, however, is only willing to return the Israelis as part of an “exchange deal” for the release of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel on security offenses, the report said.

Furthermore, the terror group has indicated it does not want an agreement that addresses its weapons stockpile, the report said, nor will it agree to end the clashes on the Gaza border until the security blockade of the Palestinian enclave is lifted.

Hamas rejected on similar grounds a third proposal presented by the UN’s Middle East peace envoy Nikolay Mladenov that would include fuel shipments for Gaza’s power plant and the permanent opening of border crossings while also addressing Israel’s security needs, according to Asharq al-Awsat.

Palestinian security forces stand guard as Egyptian trucks carrying fuel drive down a street after entering the southern Gaza Strip from Egypt through the Rafah border crossing on June 21, 2017. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

On Wednesday, Israel’s Hadashot TV news said Hamas would not release the Israelis, as part of a proposal in which Israel would establish a seaport in Cyprus for Gaza, unless some of its members who were rearrested after they were freed in a 2011 prisoner swap are released.

Channel 10 television reported Tuesday that Israel has sent messages via international intermediaries telling Hamas it is prepared to close a quick deal for the return of the civilians and soldiers held by the terror group, but that it will not accept any preconditions.

Hadashot said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas opposes the seaport plan too, demanding Gaza’s plight be addressed as part of a wider diplomatic solution to the conflict.

Israel reportedly plans to pitch the plan directly to the public in Gaza, bypassing Hamas as a way to pressure the terror group, which would be hard-pressed to explain to the international community and its subjects why it was not accepting the proposal.

On Tuesday, Cyprus said it was examining the idea but that nothing had yet been agreed.

Two apparently mentally ill Israeli civilians — Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed — who entered Gaza of their own volition in 2014 and 2015, respectively, are currently being held Hamas, along with the remains of two IDF soldiers: Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.

Left to right: Oron Shaul, Hadar Goldin and Avera Mengistu. (Flash90/The Times of Israel)

Hamas is keeping the Israelis as bargaining chips for a prisoner exchange in which it would seek to secure the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons and an end to the blockade of Gaza, which faces a lack of electricity, potable water, and food.

Israel, along with Egypt, imposed a blockade of Gaza after Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas from smuggling weapons into Gaza. Goods are currently shipped to Israeli ports and then trucked into Gaza after screening by Israeli authorities.

In 2011 Israeli released over 1,000 Palestinian security prisoners in exchange for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas in a 2006 cross-border raid and held in captivity in Gaza.

After the abduction of the three Israeli teenagers in June 2014, Israel launched a wide-scale military operation to find them, during which it arrested over 300 members of Hamas in the West Bank. The bodies of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel were found at the end of that month. As tensions rose, Hamas began firing rockets at Israeli towns near the Gaza border in an escalation that culminated with the 2014 conflict between the IDF and Hamas-led terror groups in the Gaza Strip, dubbed Operation Protective Edge. During the fighting, Goldin and Shaul were killed and their remains captured by Hamas.

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