Israel denies Norway is mediating deal on return of soldiers’ bodies from Hamas

Senior official says report by Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese daily that Oslo is leading talks on possible exchange is false

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

A senior Israeli official on Monday denied a report that Norway was mediating between Israel and Hamas for the return of the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, which are being held by the Palestinian terror group in the Gaza Strip.

The report published earlier in the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar said a Norwegian envoy visited Gaza last month and received permission from Hamas to begin mediation

The unnamed senior Israeli official told Hadashot TV news that the report was false, without elaborating further.

According to the Lebanese newspaper, a source said the proposed price for the soldiers “is a respectable exchange deal, like the Shalit deal in 2011.”

“There is flexibility regarding the preconditions set by Hamas to open negotiations, including on the release of all prisoners released in the Shalit deal [who have since been re-detained],” the source added.

In 2011, Israel traded over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for the release of Gilad Shalit, a soldier held captive in Gaza for more than five years. Many were rearrested over the following years.

Leah Goldin (r), mother of late Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin and Zehava Shaul, mother of late Israeli soldier Oron Shaul at a press conference ahead of the cabinet meeting outside the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, August 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shaul was killed on July 20, 2014 when Hamas operatives fired an anti-tank missile at a 1970s-model armored personnel carrier stalled in a narrow street in Gaza. Six troops were killed and Hamas claimed to have kidnapped Shaul.

Goldin was part of a team of Israeli soldiers in the southern Gaza Strip on August 1, 2014 trying to find and destroy attack tunnels. A 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire had been declared that morning, and as a result, Israel says Goldin’s team was prohibited from using weapons during their search except in the case of immediate danger to their lives.

According to Israel’s military, the soldiers came under fire from Gaza gunmen who killed Goldin and took his body into a tunnel. Two other soldiers were also killed.

Four Israeli civilians — Avera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed and Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima and an unnamed individual — are also believed to have crossed into the Gaza Strip. Not all of them are necessarily being held captive by Hamas.

Last year, partly in response to the Goldin family’s campaign, Israel imposed new restrictions on Hamas, including refusing to return the bodies of its fighters.

The families of the soldiers have said that Israel’s government should find ways to further pressure Hamas and have accused the Netanyahu government of not doing enough to retrieve their sons’ remains.

Last month, a former official who led Israeli efforts to return the bodies of the two soldiers said Israel should never have ended the 2014 war in which they were captured without their retrieval.

Lior Lotan, a retired IDF Colonel, had been appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2014 to lead the efforts to return the remains and bring back the Israeli civilians.

Lotan resigned from his post in mid-2017. He told Israeli TV he quit because the cabinet had not accepted his “outside the box” proposal for advancing negotiations with Hamas. He did not go into details about the proposal, though he has been quoted in the past saying Israel should adopt a policy of kidnapping enemy combatants to use as bargaining chips.

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