Israel has relayed its willingness to Hamas, by way of Egyptian mediators, to take steps toward a prisoner exchange deal with the Gaza-ruling terror group, the Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper reported Sunday.
The London-based pan-Arab paper said the terms would be as outlined by Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in Gaza.
Reports last week said the proposal included provision for Israel to free a number of women, children and elderly Palestinian prisoners in exchange for information on slain IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, whose bodies have been held by the terror group since the 2014 Gaza war.
The reported proposal would be modeled on a 2009 agreement that saw Israel release 20 female prisoners in exchange for video footage of Gilad Shalit, an IDF soldier who was held in Gaza after being captured by Hamas during a cross-border attack in 2006. Shalit was released in 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange in which Israel freed over 1,000 security prisoners, among them Sinwar.
There was no mention in the latest report of Israeli citizens Avera Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are believed to held by Hamas after having entered Gaza of their own accord in 2014-2015.
Last week, a senior Hamas official said the terror group was willing to enter talks “tomorrow” to return al-Sayed and Mengistu, as well as the bodies of Shaul and Goldin.
Musa Dudin, a member of the Hamas political bureau, speaking on a Hamas-affiliated TV channel, said Israel had a “window of opportunity” that it can take advantage of before it will once again be forced to “negotiate under more difficult conditions,” apparently referring to the willingness to make a humanitarian gesture during the coronavirus crisis.
Dudin said “Israel knows what the demands are and that they should not be discussed in the media.”
His remarks came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a message to Hamas saying that Israel was prepared to take “constructive action” to bring back Israelis and soldiers’ remains held in Gaza.
Israel’s chief negotiator for the release of Gaza captives, Yaron Blum, in collaboration with the National Security Council and the defense establishment, is “committed to acting constructively with the aim of bringing back the soldiers’ bodies and missing civilians and putting an end to the issue,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement last Tuesday, adding that the premier was calling “for immediate dialogue between mediators” to facilitate a deal.
In the past, Hamas negotiators have refused to consider any deal to return the soldiers’ bodies and civilians that does not include Israel’s release of security prisoners who were freed in the Shalit deal and then rearrested over further violations.
In November, Blum said that Hamas was refusing to adopt a stance that would allow for real progress in talks for a possible prisoner swap.
A deal over the Israeli captives and remains is believed to be one of several issues holding up a long-term ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas following months of tensions and flare-ups.