Israel and Hamas Hold Indirect Talks in Cairo on the Return of Captives

Jack Khoury
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A destroyed house in Gaza, yesterdayCredit: AFP/Mohammed Abed
Jack Khoury

Delegations from Israel and Hamas are currently in Cairo for indirect talks under Egyptian mediation on the return of two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in 2014.

Sources from Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, confirmed to Haaretz that the Islamist organization sent a delegation to Cairo at the invitation of the Egyptian intelligence services. Among the members of its delegation are Marwan Issa, the deputy head of Hamas’ military wing, and another senior Hamas official, Rouhi Mushtaha. 

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The sources said that no progress or breakthrough have been achieved so far.

Hamas, which is holding Israeli civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed and the bodies of soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, is apparently interested in separating the negotiations for the return of the four from the humanitarian issues involving the reconstruction of Gaza.

Egyptian officials announced this week that reconstruction work, which is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars, would begin in another several months after rubble is cleared away. Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, said last week that a solution has yet to be found to the humanitarian problems in Gaza, because, he claimed, Israel is trying to blackmail his organization.

In another development, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, met this week in Beirut with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. In a joint statement, the two organizations highlighted their continuing cooperation and their intention to step up military cooperation. For his part, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas paid a brief visit to Amman, the Jordanian capital, on Wednesday, where he met with King Abdullah.

At the beginning of the week, the office of the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories announced that, for the first time since May’s hostilities, Israel would permit fuel for the power plant in Gaza to enter the coastal enclave via the Kerem Shalom border crossing. “The decision was made after a situation assessment on the issue and approval at the political level and is conditioned on the continued maintenance of security stability,” the office said.

Sources in Israel and with Hamas denied that the agreement to the fuel shipment constituted an aspect of any new understanding between the two sides.

When Israel consented to the reopening of Gaza’s fishing zone last month, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said it was his intention to condition any assistance to Gaza, other than humanitarian aid, on a solution to the return of the two Israeli civilians and the bodies of the soldiers.

“We need to permit the basic humanitarian response to the extent that it is necessary,” the defense minister told reporters. “When it comes to everything else, we need to condition it on progress and a solution to the prisoners and the missing in action.”

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