Israel requested Egyptian help in order to secure a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas, the Saudi-owned and UAE-based Al Arabiya channel reported on Saturday.
According to the report, Hamas demanded the easing of Israeli restrictions on fishing and port activities, and the release of an unspecified amount of Palestinian prisoners. Cairo asked Israel to be flexible, the report said, without specifying what it was referring to.
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The report did not contain any confirmation from either Egyptian or Israeli officials. However, the issue comes up amid reports of a deal being struck between Israel and Syria via Russia, in which the former would buy thousands of coronavirus vaccine doses in exchange for the return of an Israeli civilian that entered Syria illegally.
Hamas is holding civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham Al-Sayed since 2014 and 2015, respectively, and the bodies of two soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul since 2014, in Gaza.
There has been some hesitation in Israel as to whether coronavirus vaccines should be allowed into Gaza, before two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers held in the coastal enclave are returned. This week, a convoy of Sputnik V vaccines from the Palestinian Authority destined for medical staff in Gaza was stopped by Israeli forces at a checkpoint. It was eventually allowed to proceed, but there is uncertainty as to the rest of the vaccination campaign.
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- Hamas rejects Israeli prisoner exchange proposal, Lebanese newspaper reports
Families of Palestinian prisoners have called on Putin and Syria to demand the release of Palestinian prisoners due to the lack of progress in Hamas talks with Israel.
'Thousands of prisoners'
Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem said this week that Hamas would not agree to any compromises on the prisoners and any information or release of Israeli soldiers and civilians held in Gaza would not be carried out without the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Egypt, in its position as a negotiator, has always put an emphasis on the issue of prisoners and the exchange of messages between the parties, so if there is such a request from Israel, this is not an unusual step and perhaps an attempt to renew contacts.
In December, Hamas 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 had then reported 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.