Hamas has in recent months repeatedly expressed willingness through several channels to enter into talks with Israel over a long-term ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, highlighting the Palestinian terror group’s “dire” strategic situation, according to a report Monday.
According to the Haaretz newspaper, in return for the years-long ceasefire, Hamas wants the agreement to include Israel significantly easing the blockade over Gaza, approving large-scale infrastructure projects and possibly a prisoner swap deal.
Top Israeli security officials have recently presented the political leadership with intelligence indicating that Hamas, finding itself in an “unprecedented” crisis, is currently open to discussing issues that it had rejected in the past, Haaretz reported.
It appeared Israel had not responded to Hamas’ overtures, the report said.
Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, has made similar proposals in the past.
The report follows several indications that Hamas is deeply divided as it seeks a way out of the dire situation in Gaza, where it seized power in 2007. The Strip which faces an economic crisis, sanctions from the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, continued pressure from the Israeli-Egyptian security blockade and rising internal unrest.
Last year, President Mahmoud Abbas imposed a series of measures against the Gaza Strip that included suspending Palestinian Authority payments to Israel for electricity supplies to the coastal enclave. Abbas also cut off salaries to thousands of Gaza’s civil servants and forced many others into early retirement.
Last month, the Israel Hayom daily reported that there were arguments between senior Hamas officials about whether to accept an Egyptian initiative to halt the group’s border “March of Return” protests and promote a prisoner swap deal.
Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar was interested in accepting the offer, while the group’s leader in general, Ismail Haniyeh, was vehemently opposed to it, according to that report, which cited senior Hamas and Egyptian sources. The group has subsequently been split into two opposing camps, it added.
An agreement on a prisoner swap deal was reached during meetings between Egyptian intelligence officials and Hamas leaders, the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar reported on April 18.
The two sides were said to reach agreement on the number and details of the Palestinian prisoners who would be included in a prisoner swap with Israel.
The Egyptians, the report said, have asked Hamas for information about two slain IDF soldiers whose remains it is believed to be holding in the Gaza Strip. The two, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, were killed during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, which has since refused to provide any details about them.
The terror group is also believed to be holding two Israeli civilians who entered Gaza of their own volition, Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed.
“Sinwar exploded with rage and screamed at Haniyeh when he learned that [Haniyeh] wasn’t planning to accept the Egyptian delegation’s proposal,” an Egyptian source said according to Israel Hayom.
Palestinians have been holding mass weekly marches in recent weeks near the border with Israel, raising tensions and leading to deadly clashes with IDF forces. Israel says the violence is being orchestrated by Gaza’s Hamas leaders, whom it accuses of trying to carry out border attacks under the cover of large protests, which it has dubbed the “March of Return.”
Friday saw the sixth week of demonstrations as part of the “March of Return.” At least 431 Palestinians were injured, Gaza officials said, as some 7,000 took part in the demonstrations, flew dozens of kites with petrol bombs into Israel, hurled stones at soldiers and tried to breach the border fence. There were no Palestinian deaths reported on Friday, unlike in previous weeks.
According to the Hamas health ministry, 48 Palestinians have been killed since protests and clashes began along the Gaza border on March 30 and hundreds of others have been wounded from gunfire. Several of those dead have been identified by Israel as members of terror groups. Hamas acknowledged that five of those killed on the first Friday of protests in March were its members, but has since refrained for such admissions.
Israel and Egypt have maintained a security blockade on Gaza since Hamas seized control of the Strip in 2007 in a bloody coup against Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel says it is vital to prevent Hamas, which openly seeks to destroy the Jewish state, from importing weaponry.
Hamas has fought three rounds of conflict against Israel since taking over the Strip, firing thousands of rockets across the border, and digging attack tunnels under the border.