Prisoner swap with Hamas gains momentum as hostage negotiator updates families

Coronavirus threat has apparently opened a political window in Gaza for a possible deal, with terror group’s leaders eager to see some of the blockade on the Strip lifted

Leah Goldin, right, and her husband Simcha Goldin and other family members and supporters gather outside the state memorial ceremony for Operation Protective Edge at Mount Herzl on July 23, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Leah Goldin, right, and her husband Simcha Goldin and other family members and supporters gather outside the state memorial ceremony for Operation Protective Edge at Mount Herzl on July 23, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The possibility of a deal with the Hamas terror group to return two Israeli captives and the bodies of two IDF soldiers being held in the Gaza Strip appeared to pick up momentum Wednesday, with the government’s chief negotiator for the release of Israelis held by the terror group updating families regarding the prisoner swap talks.

The meeting between Yaron Blum and the families of Sergeant First Class Oron Shaul and Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, both killed in action during the 2014 Gaza war, came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week convened the ministerial committee responsible for returning Israeli captives to discuss efforts to reach a prisoner exchange with the Hamas terror group, Channel 13 reported.

The meeting was the first of the ministerial committee since the start of the coronavirus pandemic,

In a statement, the Goldin family hinted at a deal coming together and said it was a chance that should not be passed up.

“There is [currently] an opportunity to return from the hands of Hamas our son Hadar and Sgt. Oron Saul along with the civilians [Avera] Mengistu and [Hisham] al-Sayed,” the family said.

“Missing [this] opportunity now would be a national irresponsibility,” the statement added.

Hamas in recent weeks has expressed interest in reaching a deal that would see it return Mengistu and al-Sayed, who are believed to held by Hamas after entering Gaza of their own accord over five years ago, and the remains of Shaul and Goldin.

Yaron Blum, coordinator for negotiating the return of POWs and MIAs, on April 3, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

However, the terror group, which is the de facto ruler in the Strip, has said that in order for such a deal to take place, Israel must first release all teenage, female and elderly prisoners in addition to those who were rearrested after the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange.

Israel reportedly hopes that it can receive information on the captives in exchange for letting additional medical supplies into the Gaza Strip.

Last week, Israeli officials were reportedly quietly confirming that “significant” talks were underway with Hamas.

Ismail Haniyeh, who leads the Gaza-based group, said earlier this month that he was optimistic there was a chance to reach a prisoner swap deal with Israel, and that the group was ready for indirect negotiations.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh speaks at the funeral of Qassem Soleimani, in Tehran, Iran, January 6, 2020. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)

“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.”

The issue of the captives was reportedly delaying Israel’s okay for new investment money to be funneled into blockaded Gaza, and Hamas was growing desperate to lift part of the blockade amid the global coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn.

Some Israeli defense bodies are said to believe a prisoner swap would bring quiet to the often tense border for the immediate future.

Israel and Hamas have so far failed to advance in the talks, in part because each has demanded a different timetable. Hamas has demanded two rounds of prisoner releases — the first in exchange for information on the captives, the second in exchange for the actual delivery to Israel of the captives and the soldiers’ bodies. Israel has refused, insisting that any deal must take place in a single exchange.

A composite photo of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul, left, and Hadar Goldin, right.

The new coalition deal inked last week between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz also opens a possible political window for a deal, as Gantz’s Blue and White faction would likely support an exchange even if some of Netanyahu’s right-wing allies do not.

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