Report: Israel and Hamas Negotiating Prisoner Exchange as Part of Long-term Calm Deal

Al-Quds TV, which has ties to Hamas, says 'coming hours will be decisive' ■ Report has not been confirmed by Israel, and similar false claims have been made in the past

Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul, left, and Capt. Hadar Goldin.
Gil Eliahu

Contacts between Israel and Hamas for a long-term calm in the south include negotiations on a prisoner exchange, Al-Quds television, a Hamas-affiliated channel, reported on Tuesday.

Citing "knowledgeable sources," the station said "the coming hours will be decisive." The report has not been confirmed in Israel and in the past, similar reports have ultimately turned out to be false.

A senior Palestinian official who is in contact Hamas leaders who are imprisoned in Israel has meanwhile told Haaretz that among the goals of a planned hunger strike by prisoners is to obtain such a deal. According to the official, Hamas prisoners are waiting for a signal from Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas' leader in Gaza, greenlighting a hunger strike starting on Sunday.

Abera Mengistu
Courtesy Mengistu family

Acting Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz told Kan Reshet Bet radio that he did not believe a prisoner exchange was imminent. "I also don't believe in any agreements with Hamas," said Katz, who called reporting on the matter fictitious.

For his part, Katz's Likud party colleague Immigrant Absorption Minister Yoav Gallant told Army Radio that among Israel's demands is the return of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were killed in combat in Gaza in 2014, but the matter would take time, Gallant added.

On Tuesday morning, Simcha Goldin, Hadar Goldin's father, told Channel 12 that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has officially committed not to conclude an agreement with Hamas that does not include the return of the soldiers' bodies and that the matter had most recently been discussed with him nearly a month ago. 

The Shaul family said in a statement that they had become weary of false reports about a potential deal to secure the return of the soldiers' remains. "The government had an abundance of opportunities to return our sons and it has failed every time . . . We are not willing to hear about any agreement with Gaza that does not include the return of Oron and Hadar."

In addition to the bodies of the soldiers, Hamas is holding two Israeli civilians, Abera Mengistu of Ashkelon and Hisham al-Sayid of Hura in the Negev, who crossed the border from Israel into Gaza.

In January, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper reported that Hamas and Israel had renewed indirect negotiations toward a prisoner exchange deal, citing Hamas sources.