Israel on Thursday denied rejecting a proposed prisoner swap with Hamas, after the Palestinian terror group said it had offered numerous deals for an exchange.
“This is not true,” Yaron Blum, who coordinates efforts to return Israelis held by Hamas, said in a statement. “Hamas is invited to immediately turn to the mediator known to it in order to get the process moving.”
Blum did not say which country is acting as a mediator between Hamas and Israel. Reports have named Egypt, Qatar, and an unnamed Western country.
Earlier, Hamas said it was working to reach a prisoner exchange agreement with Israel, which it claimed rejected its efforts.
The Hamas claim came after the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat reported last week that a Western country was brokering talks — initiated by Hamas — between Israel and the Palestinian terror group.
The report said Israel had promised to study the offer and respond to it after May 15, when Palestinians held mass demonstrations and riots marking 70 years since what they call the “Nakba,” or catastrophe, of Israel’s founding.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said 62 Palestinians were killed and more than 2,700 more injured in border clashes this week, which were a culmination of weekly riots and protests around the coastal enclave since March. The IDF said Tuesday that at least 24 of the dead were members of terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Those two terror groups subsequently acknowledged 53 of their members were among the dead. Israel claims that Hamas is spurring the violence and using it as cover for attacks.
Earlier this month, the Haaretz daily reported that Hamas has repeatedly in recent months expressed willingness through several channels to enter into talks with Israel over a long-term ceasefire.
The report said that in return for such a truce, Hamas wants Israel to significantly ease the blockade over Gaza, approve large-scale infrastructure projects, and possibly agree to a prisoner swap deal.
Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, has made similar proposals in the past.
The reports follow 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 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, PA President Mahmoud Abbas imposed a series of measures against the Gaza Strip that included suspending PA 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 the group 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, and the terror group 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, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed.