Responding to criticism, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman cautioned on Sunday against making too many concessions in negotiating for the return of Israelis held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
- Official Negotiating for Return of Israeli Captives, Soldiers’ Bodies From Hamas Resigns
- Human Rights Watch Slams Hamas for Holding Two Mentally Ill Israelis in Gaza
- Israel, Hamas in Intensive Talks Over Prisoner Swap, Palestinian Sources Say
While Lieberman said he was committed to returning the two civilians thought to be held by Hamas as well as the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed during the 2014 Gaza, he warned against repeating the mistakes of the 2011 prisoner swap with Hamas, in which captured soldier Gilad Shalit was traded for the release of 1,027 terrorists from Israeli prisons. He noted that seven Israelis had been killed because their release.
Lieberman's comments came after the resignation of Col. (res.) Lior Lotan, the Israeli negotiator who was seeking the release of Abera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayeed, who are both thought to be mentally ill, and the return of the bodies of the two soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.
In addition to his reference to Goldin and Shaul and the cases of Israeli civilians who apparently crossed into Gaza and were captured, Lieberman referred to the case of Gilat Shalit, the soldier who was captured on the border in 2006 and held in Gaza until he was released in a prisoner exchange in 2011.
“I have received the criticism from the Goldin and Shaul families with understanding and love, and continue to be personally committed to returning Hadar and Oron to Israel [along with] our civilians being held in the Gaza Strip in violation of international law," said the defense minister in a statement.
"Nevertheless, we must not repeat the mistake of the Shalit deal. In that deal, 1,027 terrorists were released, including murderers and those who dispatched them, including Mahmoud Qawasmeh, who was released to the Strip and who financed the kidnapping of the three boys,” he said, referring to three yeshiva students who were kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank in 2014. Among the others released, Lieberman noted, was Yahya Sinwar, the current leader of Hamas in the Strip.
The defense minister also said that 202 of those released in return for Shalit have since been rearrested by Israel for their involvement in terrorist activity – including 111 who are still in Israeli jails. He added that seven Israelis have been killed in attacks that had either direct or indirect involvement from prisoners released in the exchange.
Lieberman said that before a replacement for Lotan is appointed, Israel should set policy guidelines on prisoner exchanges that would “make it clear to [our enemies] that we have no intention to compromise Israel’s security."