Talks for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas amid a recent spike in violence also addressed the possibility of a prisoner swap between the two sides, the Hamas-affiliated Al-Quds TV station reported Tuesday, citing sources in the terror group.
Hamas is demanding the release of dozens of its members who were set free from Israeli prisons in a previous exchange but then rearrested years later, according to the report. Israel is demanding the return of two Israeli civilians believed to be held in the Gaza Strip, and the remains of two Israeli soldiers believed held by Hamas.
Israeli civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed both crossed into Gaza of their own accord in 2014 and 2015, respectively. The bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul were snatched by Hamas in the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge. The families of those held in Gaza and the soldiers have in the past accused the government of not doing enough to bring secure the release of their loved ones, or the remains.
The talks, brokered by Egyptian mediators, have reportedly stalled, with neither side willing to budge on their demands. A Hamas source said the coming hours will be critical for reaching an understanding to reduce the violence.
Hamas, a Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, has been the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip after it seized the territory from the Palestinian Authority in 2007.
Last week there was a sharp increase in violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip after rockets were fired into central Israel, drawing retaliatory airstrikes.
Egyptian mediators, shuttling between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, have been engaged in exhaustive efforts to broker a long-term ceasefire deal. Preliminary understandings between the sides reportedly included Hamas making arrangements for preventing violence during mass protests along the border it organized on Saturday.
However, a hunger strike threat by Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons to protest an intensifying crackdown on illicit cellphone usage among inmates could further complicate the delicate negotiations.
The prisoners have said they will begin their strike on Sunday, two days before Israel’s national elections on April 9. The strike, which will be gradually expanded to include more prisoners, will be observed by inmates affiliated with Hamas, Fatah and other Palestinian factions.