Hamas has reportedly rejected an Israeli prisoner swap offer that would provide for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including prisoners who committed terrorist attacks against Israelis or assisted in carrying out such attacks.
Lebanon's Al Akhbar newspaper reported on Tuesday that members of an Egyptian security delegation presented Hamas with an Israeli prisoner swap proposal and that Hamas rejected it, demanding the release of thousands of prisoners, not hundreds as proposed by Israel.
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According to the report, Hamas demanded in its counter-offer that the prisoner exchange be carried out in two stages and that the release of the Israelis – two civilians and the bodies of two soldiers – be deferred until the second stage.
Hamas has been holding civilians Abera Mengistu and Hisham Al-Sayed since 2014 and 2015 respectively, and the bodies of two soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, since they were killed in combat in Gaza in 2014. According to the Hamas proposal, Palestinian prisoners would be released in both stages, but in the first stage, only information would be provided about the Israelis.
Hamas said the proposal was made several months ago. The Hamas official responsible for the prisoner issue, Musa Dudin, said at the time that Israel had not shown interest in it.
On Tuesday, sources in Gaza told Haaretz that the organization is seeking to come to agreement in advance with Israel on a list of prisoners to be released, as was done in 2011, when Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was freed. Shalit was held in Gaza following his capture in 2006 in a raid along the Israeli-Gaza border.
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Hamas is seeking agreement on a list to prevent Israel from freeing Palestinians who have nearly completed their prison terms or who have been sentenced on minor crimes. The Islamist group is also demanding the release of all the Palestinians who had been released in the Shalit prisoner exchange and later rearrested by Israel. Israel's proposed freeing of hundreds rather than thousands of Palestinians was not a compromise, the sources said.
A Hamas spokesperson said Monday that reports of progress toward an agreement on a prisoner swap were untrue, but serve Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the election campaign that may take place in Israel next year.
“There is no progress in the contacts, and Netanyahu is continuing to evade making decisions and playing with the emotions of the families of the Israeli captives,” said Hazem Qasem. “These are false reports and an attempt by Netanyahu to score points with public opinion before the coming election.”