Bodies of Soldiers Held by Hamas Will Only Be Returned Through Prisoner Swap, Israeli Official Says

Former coordinator on Israeli hostages says government is creating the misleading impression that the return of two civilians and the bodies of two soldiers can be part of main agreement being negotiated with Hamas

Family of Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin protesting near the Gaza border, November 2018.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Two Israeli civilians being held hostage and the bodies of Israeli soldiers held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip will only be returned as part of a separate deal and not as part of a main agreement under negotiation between Israel and Hamas that would ease the situation in the Strip, Lior Lotan, the former Israeli coordinator on Israeli hostages and missing soldiers, said Monday. 

“The statement that we will bring back our soldiers when there is an agreement with Hamas is misleading. It will never happen,” said Lotan at a ceremony in memory of 1st Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was killed during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in the summer of 2014. Goldin’s body and that of another soldier from that summer’s fighting, Oron Shaul, are still being held by Hamas.

Haaretz Weekly Episode 33Haaretz

In Lotan’s view, a separate accord must be reached on the return of the bodies and of the Israeli civilians, Hisham al-Sayed and Abera Mengistu, who separately crossed into Gaza on their own. “I am not talking about a bad deal like the release of Gilad Shalit, but an agreement from a position of strength. To reach that point, time is not something that is working to our advantage,” he added. 

Shalit was abducted in the course of his army service on the Israeli border with Gaza in 2006 and released in 2011 in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.

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Lotan’s statements are consistent with the position of the defense establishment. A senior defense official told Haaretz that the issue of the soldiers’ bodies and the captives “is a matter that will never happen in [the main agreement] and in exchange for humanitarian aid.” The soldiers’ bodies and the Israeli civilians being held hostage by Hamas will be returned only as part of a separate accord in which Israel returns the bodies of terrorists it holds and releases prisoners, said the official.

“Hamas will not stray from this equation,” the official remarked. “This is what leads people to go out and commit terrorist attacks. They know that what will bring them back is a deal and it is important to Hamas and the Palestinian public … It will not be possible to return the fallen and captives in return for a water desalination plant.