Israel, Hamas Were Near Prisoner-swap Deal, Says Activist

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An undated handout photo of fallen Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin, whose body remains in Gaza.Credit: Reuters

Israel and Hamas were close to a new prisoner-swap deal a few weeks ago, but an agreement is no longer seen imminent, says an activist who works on behalf of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

Fallen Israeli soldier Oron Shaul.Credit: Reuters

Meanwhile, a lawyer who represents Palestinian prisoners told Haaretz that two Hamas men who submitted parole requests had made similar comments.

Israel is seeking the bodies of two soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, killed in the Gaza Strip during last summer’s war, and possibly two other Israelis who entered Gaza of their own volition over the past year and are presumed to be alive, though it’s not clear if either is being held by Hamas. The Islamist group’s demands include the release of all prisoners rearrested after being freed in the 2011 swap for abducted soldier Gilad Shalit.

The activist, who works mainly with Hamas prisoners, told Haaretz that about two months ago, both the rearrested convicts and their families had received messages from very senior Hamas officials saying a deal was near. The prisoners would celebrate the end of Ramadan, which falls this weekend, at home with their families, the officials said.

“There was a feeling that it was a matter of a few weeks, and there was great hope on the part of the prisoners and their families,” the activist said.

Though expectations of an imminent release have faded, the rearrested prisoners remain convinced they will eventually be freed and Hamas will honor its pledge to shun deals that don’t include them.

Attorney Abeer Baker, who represents many Palestinian prisoners, said she heard similar hopes of an imminent release when she met two months ago with two Hamas prisoners who had made parole requests. At the meeting, they surprised her by asking her to withdraw their requests, saying they expected to be freed soon in any case.

These two were not rearrested convicts from the Shalit deal, though both were serving long sentences, she added.

“As a defense attorney, I didn’t go too deeply into the details; I did as they requested, and I didn’t ask what they were basing themselves on,” she said. “But they really expected to be released within weeks.”

It’s not clear what grounds the prisoners had for their optimism, or where the negotiations stand now. A Gaza human rights activist who is in contact with the prisoners’ families said there has been little discussion on the issue in Gaza.

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