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Senior Hamas official says progress made in prisoner swap talks with Israel

Moussa Abu Marzouk says deal possible ‘within weeks’ should Israel respond to demands; terror group says it has sent Israel possible terms

Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk, September 18, 2014. (AP/Khalil Hamra)
Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk, September 18, 2014. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

A senior Hamas leader claimed on Friday that progress had been made toward a possible prisoner exchange deal with Israel, after the terror group sent a proposal to Jerusalem earlier this week.

Hamas politburo member Moussa Abu Marzouk told the London-based al-Araby al-Jadeed that a “fundamental development” had taken place in the prisoner exchange talks with Israel.

“This issue will be ready within weeks — if the occupation responds to the [Hamas] movement’s demands. The occupation is delaying, seeking to maneuver and buy time,” Abu Marzouk said.

The Prime Minister’s Office, which is managing talks on the Israeli side, did not respond to a request for comment.

Hamas currently holds two living Israeli civilians as prisoners in Gaza — Avner Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed. The terror group also possesses the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed during the 2014 Gaza war: Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin.

Senior Hamas official Zaher Jabareen, who handles the prisoner exchange portfolio with Israel, announced earlier this week that the terror group had sent a potential offer to the Israeli side through third parties.

Clockwise from top left: Oron Shaul, Avera Mengistu, Hadar Goldin and Hisham al-Sayed. (Flash 90/Courtesy)

Egypt has been mediating the current indirect talks between Israel and Hamas. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett discussed the prisoner exchange issue with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi during a recent state visit to Sharm el-Sheikh.

“We have presented a clear proposal to the enemy, with clear demands,” Jabareen told Arabic-language Radio al-Shams on Thursday.

According to Jabareen, Hamas has proposed two potential paths to Israel — according to one proposal, a large group of prisoners would be released at once. The second proposal would allow for Palestinian prisoners to be released in stages.

Jabareen said that releasing veteran Hamas prisoners held in Israeli jail — many of whom have been imprisoned for decades for violent terror offenses — is a key demand for the terror group.

October will mark a decade since the last major swap deal between Israel and Hamas, in which Israel released over 1,000 prisoners in exchange for soldier Gilad Shalit, who spent five years in captivity.

Abu Marzouk also noted that Israel had seemingly walked back from previous demands tying a prisoner swap to reconstruction efforts in Gaza, which suffered $380 million in damage during a flareup of violence in May, according to the World Bank.

Israel leveled higher restrictions on Gaza for months following the 11-day skirmish, effectively preventing substantial reconstruction of the battered enclave. Gaza has been tightly blockaded by both Israel and Egypt for a decade and a half; both countries say allowing freer movement of goods and people could strengthen Hamas.

Neighbors gather in a clearing strewn with debris from an airstrike during an 11-day war between Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Israel, in Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip, May 26, 2021. (John Minchillo/AP)

For months, Israeli officials vowed that they would not allow a full reconstruction of Gaza without a prisoner swap. Despite the absence of an agreement, however, Israel has slowly relaxed the additional sanctions following low-level exchanges of fire with Palestinian terrorists in Gaza.

Over the past month, Israel agreed to allow construction materials and some Qatari cash to enter the closely guarded enclave, in a partial return to the status quo ante.

“We always knew Israel would retreat from tying the prisoner issue to the reconstruction because it was an illogical condition,” Abu Marzouk said.

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