Hamas warns Faqha’s killing could impede prisoner exchange

Mahmoud al-Zahar says mysterious assassination will ‘disrupt’ negotiations over Israelis held hostage by his group in Gaza

Dov Lieber is The Times of Israel's Arab affairs correspondent.

Mahmoud al-Zahar speaks at a Hamas rally in Gaza on December 14, 2015. (YouTube screenshot)
Mahmoud al-Zahar speaks at a Hamas rally in Gaza on December 14, 2015. (YouTube screenshot)

A senior leader in Hamas said Tuesday that the recent assassination of one of the terror group’s military commanders, Mazen Faqha, which it blames on Israel, would impede the negotiations for a prisoner exchange with the Jewish state.

“What they did is not a military victory. It will disrupt many things they were working to realize, such as the prisoner exchange or other things,” Mahmoud al-Zahar told the Lebanese-based pan-Arab news channel al-Mayadeen.

Israel has been trying to secure from Hamas the release of two to three Israelis who crossed into the Gaza Strip of their own accord: Avraham Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed, and possibly Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima, whose presence in Gaza is unconfirmed.

Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, also holds the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who — the army determined — were killed in action in the 2014 Gaza war.

Oron Shaul, Hadar Goldin and Avraham Mengistu. (Flash90/The Times of Israel)
Oron Shaul, Hadar Goldin and Avraham Mengistu (Flash90/The Times of Israel)

Faqha, a former prisoner in Israel who oversaw Hamas’s efforts to instigate terror attacks in the West Bank, was killed in his home in Tel el-Hawa, a neighborhood in southwestern Gaza City, on Friday. Hamas leaders have pointed to the stealthy and professional quality of the killing as evidence that it was carried out by members of an Israeli spy agency. Israel has not commented on Faqha’s death.

Faqha hailed from the northern West Bank town of Tubas, where he was arrested in 2002 for terrorism during the Second Intifada. He was serving multiple life terms for orchestrating a 2002 suicide bombing in which nine Israelis were killed. He was released in October 2011 in the prisoner swap for the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and expelled to Gaza.

Hamas demands that Israel release all 60 prisoners from the 2011 Shalit deal who were rearrested in 2014 when three Israeli teens were abducted in the West Bank (it later emerged that they had been killed almost immediately) before any advancement in negotiations between the parties can take place.

Earlier this year, Israel, through a mediator, offered to release Hamas member Bilal Razaineh in return for either Mengistu or Sayed in what was described as a “humanitarian” exchange, as all three are considered to have mental health issues. Hamas declined the offer.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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