An Israeli delegation is set to meet with Egyptian mediators next week in Cairo and convey the new government’s demands regarding the ceasefire with the Hamas terror group, including on the matter of captives held in the Gaza Strip, Egyptian sources said Saturday.
The unnamed sources told the London-based Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper that under the new government, headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the delegation will bring “new developments” to be conveyed to Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups, through the Egyptian mediators.
The sources said the developments pertain to Israel’s position on the reconstruction of Gaza following May’s round of fighting, and the demand to release Israeli captives held by Hamas.
Hamas has so far insisted on separating prisoner negotiations from any discussions related to a potential long-term truce or the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, while Israel had linked the prisoner swap request to any further negotiations.
Two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israel Defense Forces soldiers are currently being held in Gaza. Avraham Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed entered the Strip of their own accord, and their families say they suffer from mental illness. Hamas is also holding the bodies of Oren Shaul and Hadar Goldin, two IDF soldiers who were killed in the Strip during the 2014 Gaza war.
The report came a day after Israel eased some restrictions on the flow of goods to and from Gaza, as well as reopening the Strip’s fishing zone, following several days of quiet along the border. Israel had significantly limited the entrance of goods into the enclave following last month’s 11-day conflict.
But Defense Minister Benny Gantz reiterated this week that Israel would not allow large-scale reconstruction of Gaza unless Hamas returns the captives and the bodies of the IDF soldiers.
“Operation Guardian of the Walls ended, but it hasn’t finished,” Gantz said during a speech at a graduation ceremony for Israeli Air Force pilots on Thursday, using Israel’s name for last month’s fighting in the Strip.
“The Hamas terror group in Gaza needs to understand: We are determined. If Hamas wants reconstruction and economic development, the time has come that it takes concrete steps to maintain the calm, to halt the rearmament and to return the boys home,” he said.
The remarks came a day after Gantz met with the UN’s Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland, underscoring “the need to maintain calm and to work to return the captives and missing Israelis in the Gaza Strip,” according to a statement from the defense minister’s office.
Wennesland met Monday with Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in the Strip, who said their talks to strengthen the ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza-ruling terror group, which openly seeks the Jewish state’s destruction, went poorly.
“It was a bad meeting. It was not positive at all,” Sinwar told reporters following the meeting. “It seems that the occupation did not get our people’s message,” he added, referring to Israel.
Hamas officials have also threatened to resume rocket attacks if Israel seeks to impose a new status quo on Gaza following the recent fighting, after some Israeli officials called for a harsher response to the terror group, including the renewal of assassinations of Hamas leaders.
Aaron Boxerman and Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.