The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza on Sunday announced two new confirmed coronavirus cases, bringing the total in the coastal enclave to 15.
The latest cases are a couple who returned to the Gaza Strip from abroad five days ago. They had been staying at a quarantine facility at the Rafah Crossing where they tested positive for the virus, the ministry said.
Nine of the 15 cases have recovered from the virus and have since tested negative, it said.
There have also been 309 cases in the Palestinian Authority controlled West Bank, including two deaths.
The Hamas terror group warned earlier Sunday that Israel will be responsible for the consequences unless more medical equipment for dealing with the coronavirus is brought into the Gaza Strip.
“Israel will be the one that bears responsibility for an outbreak of the virus in the Gaza Strip; and therefore it must make it easier for shipments of aid to arrive and it is the one who needs to send these medical means,” said Khalil al-Hayya, the deputy Hamas leader in Gaza, according to the Ynet news site.
A senior Israeli source told Channel 13 last week that Hamas was deeply concerned about a potential spread of the coronavirus in the densely crowded Strip and was interested in a prisoner exchange deal with Israel that would include medical assistance.
Gaza, under an Israeli-imposed blockade since 2007 has a struggling health system. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent arms from reaching Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups there.
Gaza’s Hamas rulers last week temporarily reopened the border crossing with Egypt, shut due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, to allow hundreds of Palestinians to return.
All those returning would be put into compulsory 21-day quarantine, which could be extended, interior ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bozm said.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said Friday that he was optimistic about reaching an agreement with Israel and that the terror group was ready for indirect negotiations, adding that the coronavirus crisis had created a “historic junction” to progress on these talks.
“We have four prisoners and we are ready for indirect talks,” Haniyeh said in a television interview with the Gaza-based al-Araby TV network. “I’m optimistic about the possibility of reaching an agreement with the occupation in order to complete a prisoner exchange deal and achieve our goals.”
Haniyeh gave a long list of demands that Israel must meet ahead of talks, including the release of all sick prisoners, child prisoners, elderly prisoners, female prisoners and prisoners who were released in the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange who were afterwards rearrested on charges of subsequent terror attacks.
His comments came a day after Hebrew media reported progress toward a possible deal, citing both Palestinian and Israeli sources.
A senior Israeli source told Channel 13 that “an exceptional and rare opportunity has been created to reach a prisoner deal with Hamas.”
Channel 13 said the deal would include the return of two Israeli civilians, Avera Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are believed to held by Hamas after entering Gaza of their own accord in 2014-2015, as well as the remains of two Israeli soldiers, Sergeant First Class Oron Shaul and Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, killed in action during the 2014 Gaza war.
In exchange Israel would free an undisclosed number of Palestinian prisoners.