Hamas: We Hold a Bargaining Chip to Advance Release of Palestinian Prisoners in Israel

Gaza will return to the Stone Age if Hamas tests Israel, says Israeli lawmaker and former Shin Bet chief.

Hamas militants stand guard during a rally marking Palestinian Prisoner's Day in Gaza City on April 17, 2016. The sign reads, 'The enemy will not know news about you unless it pays heavy prices.'
Mohammed Salem/Reuters

Hamas military spokesman Abu Obeida said on Sunday that his organization holds a bargaining chip that may advance the release of Palestinian prisoners jailed in Israel.

"The brigades have something that could ensure a worthy deal to release prisoners," he said, referring to Iz al-Din al-Qassam, Hamas' military wing.

Speaking in honor of the Palestinian Prisoner's Day, which was marked on Sunday, Abu Obeida said that the military wing still stands behind its promise to release prisoners, and that "freedom for these prisoners' is nearing Israel's leaders have no option to maneuver and there are people who are standing their ground to release the prisoners."

The Palestinian Prisoner's Day was marked on Sunday across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with parades and events. The issue of prisoners is considered one of the most sensitive ones for Palestinians, and one that is widely agreed upon despite the rift between Fatah and Hamas and disputes between other Palestinian factions.

A statement published by the Palestinian Prisoners Club noted that Israel holds 7,000 prisoners, among them more than 400 minors and 69 women, including minors. According to the organization, 750 Palestinians are being held in administrative detention, among them three women. It added that numbers have risen in past months following recent events in the West Bank. Dozens of Palestinians are classified as sick, and 23 of them are being treated at Israel Prison Service clinics, it said.

Hamas has been making sure to mention prisoners at almost every occasion in the past year, and promises their release in exchange for the release of Israeli captives or bodies – soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were declared dead by the IDF, and civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayeed.

This was the second time this month that Abu Obeida spoke of the matter. Two weeks ago, he said that there aren’t any negotiations in place to return the captive Israelis from Gaza.

"[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is lying to his people and casts sand in the eyes of the soldiers' families," the spokesman said. "We clearly state that there are no negotiations over the four prisoners and there are no contacts."

"Israel must pay to receive information before and after the negotiations," he added at the time."

Meanwhile, former Shin Bet head and current Likud MK Avi Dichter warned on Sunday that Hamas faces a grave response should it test Israel's seriousness regarding terror.

Dichter, a member of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, spoke of recent tensions between Israel and Hamas on the Gaza Strip border as he toured communities in the area.

"If there will be no other way to prevent terror from Gaza, Gazans will return to the Stone Age," he said.  

Hamas does not pose an existential and strategic threat to Israel, he noted, adding that rockets pose the main threat from Gaza. "But the IDF is preparing just for that," he added.

Speaking of Hamas' capabilities, Dichter said that its rocket array has undergone a "dramatic change" following Egyptian attempts to curb smuggling at the Strip's southern border this year. "It harms quite a bit of Hamas' capabilities in Gaza, and of course aids the Israeli interest," he said.

"Hamas still has capabilities," he noted. "In the two years that the Muslim Brotherhood was in Egypt, they [Hamas] smuggled technological capabilities to produce in Gaza, from materials that exit in Gaza, to produce rockets and even precise rockets.

"This of course forces Israel to prepare in a different manner regarding what we thought would happen," he added. 

Last week, a senior IDF officer said that Hamas wants to complete its preparations for a possible war with Israel, but without triggering an immediate escalation.

The officer said that Hamas is manufacturing and developing more rockets, increasing the number of naval commandos and strengthening its special forces, some of whose 5,000 fighters have been trained to invade Israeli territory.