Progress reported on possible prisoner swap with Hamas amid ‘rare opportunity’

Senior Israeli source tells TV terror group’s fear of coronavirus has created climate for deal; Palestinian sources report senior Hamas delegation met with Egyptian intelligence

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

Progress has been made on a possible prisoner swap deal with Hamas, according to Hebrew media reports on Thursday that cited 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 remains of two Israeli soldiers, Sergeant First Class Oron Shaul and Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, killed in action during the 2014 Gaza war (Operation Protective Edge), and 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.

In exchange Israel would free an undisclosed number of Palestinian prisoners.

The source said that Hamas was deeply concerned about a potential spread of the coronavirus in the densely crowded Gaza Strip and was interested in a deal with Israel that would include medical assistance. The source said Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar was signaling that conditions were ripe for a deal, but warned that “if we do not act quickly the opportunity will pass.”

Hamas security forces wearing personal protective equipment as a precaution against the coronavirus pandemic wait at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, in the southern Gaza Strip, April 13, 2020. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Channel 12 cited Palestinian sources as saying a senior Hamas delegation met in Cairo last week with Egyptian intelligence to discuss a prisoner swap. According to the sources, Musa Dudin, a member of the Hamas political bureau, was one of the members of the delegation.

On April 8, speaking on a Hamas-affiliated TV channel, Dudin said Israel had a “window of opportunity” that it could take advantage of before it would once again be forced to “negotiate under more difficult conditions,” apparently referring to the situation created by the coronavirus crisis.

However, earlier this week, Dudin denied reports of a breakthrough in negotiations over a prisoner swap.

A report in the Lebanese Al-Akhbar daily on Tuesday said Hamas prisoners held in Israel had drawn up a list of 250 prisoners they wish freed in the first stage of a deal and have conveyed it to the Hamas leadership in the coastal enclave.

Reports in Arab media in recent days have said Hamas was only willing to provide Israel with information on Goldin and Shaul. Thursday’s report seemed to contradict that.

Channel 12 cited Hamas sources as saying the sides were arguing over the group’s demand for the release of Palestinians who had been freed in the deal to release Gilad Shalit in 2011 and then jailed again.

Shalit was released in 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange in which Israel freed over 1,000 security prisoners, among them Sinwar. Several have since been involved in terrorist attacks against Israelis.

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