The Hamas terror group recently rejected an Israeli offer to free 18 Palestinians and hand over 19 bodies seized during the 2014 war in Gaza in exchange for the bodies of two IDF soldiers who fell in the 50-day conflict, Israel’s chief negotiator Lior Lotan said Tuesday.
Lotan told the Institute for Anti-Terror Policy that Hamas also refused to hand over two mentally unstable Israelis who crossed into Gaza of their own accord, and are believed held by the organization, in exchange for dozens of Gazans who have been arrested after crossing into Israel illegally, Channel 2 News reported.
Instead, Lotan said, Hamas demanded that Israel release Palestinian prisoners who are not from Gaza and who are not connected to the 2014 war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.
Lotan said that by making these demands, Hamas was going against “norms throughout the world at the end of a confrontation.”
“You exchange captives and soldiers,” he said. “Hamas doesn’t think in the way that we would expect an organization with a political infrastructure to think, an organization that rules a population.”
He added: “In an unprecedented fashion, Hamas responded negatively to the proposal and laid down preconditions… We cannot accept these preconditions, it wouldn’t be right. We have enough tools and avenues to explore despite this.”
Lotan said that at a time when the Gaza population is asking Israel and the world to help rehabilitate lives in the Strip, the Hamas leadership is behaving in a contradictory manner by failing to return the soldiers’ bodies and the captive Israelis. “It’s important that the residents of Gaza understand this,” Lotan said.
The families of the two fallen soldiers — 22-year-old Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul and 23-year-old Lt. Hadar Goldin — have been pressing the government to secure the return of their bodies since the end of the 2014 conflict. Israel has vowed to get their remains back for burial.
Lotan said that Israel had provided medical evidence that Avraham Abera Mengistu and Bedouin Hisham al-Sayed are suffering from mental health problems, making it a humanitarian, rather than a security issue.
“We will do everything in our power to bring our boys home,” Lotan told the television. “The objective is clear and we have the tools and experience to succeed.”
On Sunday, Mengistu’s family demonstrated outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, marking two years since he went missing.
Meanwhile, Simcha and Leah Goldin, Hadar Goldin’s parents, told reporters on Tuesday that Hamas could not expect to receive everything they wanted in a prisoner exchange.
“Hamas has to understand that there are no free deals and no free meals,” the family said, according to Channel 10. They called for Israel to place greater pressure on Hamas specifically and Gaza in general, arguing that the terror group would give up the bodies once it understood it had too much to lose by not doing so.
Leah and Simcha Goldin will join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s entourage at the United Nations General Assembly in New York next week.
While in New York, the couple will ask UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a special envoy to deal with the issue. Simcha Goldin told Channel 2 that the UN was responsible for the situation as their son was killed and his body had been seized during a UN-brokered ceasefire.
In a reaction to Lotan’s comments, the Mengistu family tweeted that that it was “worrying and disappointing” that they had heard about the contacts with Hamas from the media. It showed “disregard for the family’s pain.”
On Monday, the Oron Shaul’s family announced they would be erecting a new protest tent opposite the Prime Minister’s official residence less than two weeks after his father, Herzl succumbed to cancer.
Aviram Shaul, Oron’s brother, told Channel 10 that his father had begged him to continue the family’s efforts to secure Oron’s remains.