The Hamas movement said it is ready to begin negotiations on a prisoner exchange deal with Israel, after Benjamin Netanyahu expressed willingness to hold immediate, indirect talks on the matter.
Two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers are held by the group in the Gaza Strip. Hisham al-Sayed and Abera Mengistu crossed separately into Gaza on their own, while Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul were killed during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in the summer of 2014.
"We are ready to make a deal tomorrow," said Musa Dudin, the head of Hamas's political office, demanding that mediators be neutral and not biased toward Israel. "The window of opportunity will not always be there and Israel will later have to negotiate under more difficult terms," he warned on Wednesday.
Dudin, however, expressed doubt that the Israeli government is truly interested in negotiations at this time and called Netanyahu's statement "propaganda." He said Netanyahu "is not doing anything about it" and that a swap is "the last item on his agenda."
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On Tuesday, Benjamin Netanyahu's office said that Israel was willing to advance toward the release of Israeli civilians and the remains of Israeli soldiers being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Yahya Sinwar, Hamas leader in Gaza, said that the organization is ready to show flexibility regarding the release of Israeli prisoners if Israel releases Palestinian prisoners, especially the sick and elderly.
“The ball is in Israel’s court, and it must take operative steps” toward negotiating the return of Palestinian prisoners who were rearrested and imprisoned in Israel after being released in the exchange that included the release of Gilad Shalit," Hamas said in a second statement issued Tuesday in response to Netanyahu's announcement.
Hamas signaled to Israel this month that it would be willing to hold talks on the matter, in light of the coronavirus crisis, calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel with an emphasis on elderly, women and minors.
Sinwar also said that Israel would pay a heavy price if the Gaza Strip were left to cope with the coronavirus crisis on its own. As of Tuesday, the Strip had 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and the authorities there warned of shortages of testing materials and equipment to treat patients with the virus.
Several reported attempts over the past few years to negotiate a prisoner swap deal between Israel and the Palestinians have failed.