Israel, Hamas in Intensive Talks Over Prisoner Swap, Palestinian Sources Say

A Hamas delegation is in Egypt to negotiate a deal that appears to be in its final stages, sources say

Hamas chief in Gaza Yahya Sinwar (C) visits the border with Egypt, in Rafah in southern Gaza Strip on July 6, 2017.
SAID KHATIB/AFP

Hamas and Israel are currently in the midst of intensive talks over a prisoner exchange, Palestinian sources have told Haaretz. According to the sources, the talks are being mediated by Egyptian intelligence officials and former senior Fatah figure Mohammed Dahlan

Security sources in Israel confirmed that some progress has been made in the indirect talks but dismissed reports in Arab media on the matter as too optimistic. The progress in the talks touches on an Egyptian initiative to significantly ease the siege on the Gaza Strip.

wo Israeli civilians, Abera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, are missing in the Gaza Strip, although there has been no solid evidence that they are being held by Hamas. In addition, the bodies of two Israel Defense Forces soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were killed in 2014 during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, have remained in Gaza.

Shaul's family said on Saturday that they have learned of the progress in the talks from reports in the media, and urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "not to forsake" their son in Hamas captivity. Mengistu's family also said they haven't been updates about the negotiations.

According to two Palestinian sources in Gaza and the West Bank, Hamas is demanding the release of prisoners who were first freed in exchange for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, but then re-arrested after the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in 2014. Israel is willing to discuss the release of 27 such prisoners, the sources said. Alongside the release of inmates, Hamas is also hoping to secure a deal that will ensure a long cease-fire and ease Gaza’s humanitarian situation, according to the sources.

According to the sources, the negotiations are being conducted by a Hamas delegation currently in Cairo headed by Rohi Mushata, a member of Hamas’ political wing, and is considered close to Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar. Senior member of the group’s military wing, Marwan Issa, is also reportedly present. The sources claim that negotiation efforts increased following Sinwar’s visit to Cairo about a month ago, and that Issa’s presence in Egypt could suggest that the deal has reached its final stages.

The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reported on Saturday that in addition to the release of prisoners who were freed in the Shalit deal, Hamas is also demanding the release of Palestinian women, minors and members of the Palestinian parliament. In exchange it is offering information on the fate of the Israelis the group is holding. According to the report, Hamas wants to secure the release of Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader Ahmed Saadat. Al-Akhbar also reported that Israel has not fully accepted Hamas’ terms at this stage.

Last week Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh said that the release of Palestinian prisoners was closer than ever. The remarks made at the start of Haniyeh’s first speech since taking office were interpreted as a hint that the talks on a deal were indeed progressing.

Sources close to the families of Palestinian prisoners have told Haaretz that information they have received does indeed indicate advances toward a deal. However, they stressed that the scope of the deal is unknown, because, they claimed, it is unclear what price Israel would be prepared to pay for the civilians that are currently being held, and for the soldiers’ remains.

Last week, Israel decided not to allow family visits to Hamas prisoners from the Gaza Strip. This was interpreted as a sign that Israel was exerting pressure on Hamas as part of the negotiations.