Thanks to Egyptian pressure, Israel and Hamas might be close to a prisoner swap deal, which could lead to a long-term truce.
Egypt is exerting immense pressure on Hamas and Israel to reach a prisoner-exchange agreement, Palestinian and Egyptian sources said. The Egyptians hope such a deal would pave the way for a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, the sources said.
Some progress has been achieved toward reaching a prisoner swap, according to unconfirmed reports in a number of Palestinian and Egyptian media outlets over the past few days.
Hamas is holding the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were killed in the 2014 war with Israel, as well as two Israeli citizens, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who crossed into the Gaza Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2105, respectively.
According to the reports, Israel’s recent easing of restrictions imposed on the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave is aimed at facilitating the Egyptian mission of securing a prisoner-exchange deal and achieving a long-term truce.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was personally involved in the contacts to achieve a Hamas-Israel deal, Palestinian daily Al-Quds reported.
“The coming days may witness a development in the positions of Hamas and Israel toward taking confidence-building steps to move forward with a prisoner-exchange deal in several stages,” the report said, citing informed Palestinian and Egyptian sources. “Cairo is exerting great pressure for the conclusion of a prisoner-exchange deal between Hamas and Israel as part of a comprehensive plan aimed at reaching an agreement that guarantees a long-term truce in the Gaza Strip.”
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Saturday said his group was continuing its efforts to seek the release of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
“The efforts that are being made by Hamas to secure the release of all the Palestinian prisoners are continuing,” he said in a phone call to Anhar al-Deek, a Palestinian woman who was released from an Israeli prison last week.
Haniyeh did not comment on the reports about an imminent deal with Israel.
Deek, from the village of Naima, near Ramallah, was arrested in March on suspicion of trying to carry out a stabbing attack at the Sde Ephraim settlement outpost in the West Bank. She was four months pregnant at the time.
Haniyeh told Deek the issue of the prisoners would remain at the top of Hamas’s list of priorities.
Sheikh Hassan Yusef, a senior Hamas official in the West Bank, said his group was “devoting all its energies and efforts to reach another prisoner-exchange deal with Israel.”
Hamas has informed the Egyptians of its readiness to strike a prisoner-exchange agreement with Israel, Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar reported last week.
Hamas was prepared, in the first phase of the proposed deal, to hand over the bodies of the soldiers in return for the immediate release of women, minors and sick inmates from Israeli prisons, the report said.
The move would be followed by a series of measures by Israel and other international parties to improve the humanitarian and economic situation in the Gaza Strip, it said.
Hamas is demanding the release of hundreds of prisoners, including many who are serving lengthy prison sentences for their roles in terrorist attacks, sources close to the Gaza-based group said. The Hamas leadership has prepared a list with the names of the prisoners it wants freed, they added.
“The ball is in the court of the Israeli government,” one of the sources said.
Despite the reports about a possible breakthrough, Saleh Arouri, deputy chairman of the Hamas politburo, last weekend said there was no “substantial development” in the position of the Israeli government toward a prisoner-exchange deal.
The mediation efforts have yet to achieve any progress, he told Al Jazeera TV network, adding: “The Egyptian brothers are making efforts, but the negotiations have not moved forward.”
Hamas has rejected Israeli attempts to link a prisoner-exchange deal to a ceasefire or the lifting of the “siege” in the Gaza Strip, Arouri said. “The prisoner deal is not connected to any other issues.”
The details concerning the names and numbers of the prisoners held by Israel are left to the negotiators, Arouri said. Hamas insists that any deal include prisoners serving lengthy sentences, women, minors, sick and elderly inmates, in addition to the bodies of deceased terrorists held by Israel, he said.
By Khaled Abu Toameh/Jpost.com