Hamas: No Negotiations Until Israel Releases Shalit-deal Prisoners

The parents of an Israeli soldier presumed killed during the Gaza war called on the militant group to release information on their son's whereabouts.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
A group of seven Hamas leaders on top of a stage joining and raising their hands as they take part in a rally marking the 28th anniversary of Hamas' founding, in Gaza City December 14, 2015. About 10 people are below the stage, also lined up and joining hands.
Hamas leaders, top, joining hands as they take part in a rally marking the 28th anniversary of Hamas' founding, in Gaza City December 14, 2015. Credit: Reuters
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

A senior member of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Dr. Mahmoud Al-Zahar, said on Monday that his organization will not negotiate regarding information of Israelis possibly missing in Gaza until Israel releases all the prisoners it had originally exchanged in the Gilad Shalit deal and later incarcerated.

The parents of Oron Shaul, the Golani Brigade fighter who was declared a fallen soldier whose burial place is unknown during the Gaza war in the summer of 2014, called on the Hamas leadership on Sunday to give them information about their son's whereabouts.

Speaking at a rally marking the 28th anniversary of the organization's founding, he also declared that Israel would also have to promise not to return any of them to prison again before Hamas would negotiate the release of subsequently incarcerated prisoners. Some observers in Gaza see this issue as reflecting increased influence by the military wing of Hamas.

Palestinian children carry toy weapons during a rally to commemorate the 28th anniversary of the Hamas militant group, in Gaza City, December 14, 2015.Credit: AP

Al-Zahar was reflecting the official position of Hamas, echoing what Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal and other senior leaders have said in recent months. These declarations, however, contradict reports in both the Hebrew and Arabic press and comments by anonymous sources from within Hamas, who have spoken of contacts regarding Israelis, both living and dead, being held in Gaza.

Al-Zahar praised in his speech the military wing of Hamas, the Izz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades, and remarked that the group is developing the weapons it holds and will continue to do so until its missiles and rockets can reach all of Palestine, referring to the State of Israel.

Speakers at the rally included Ismail Haniyeh, a senior political leader of Hamas, and Mashaal, who both praised the uprising they sais had broken the wall of fear of Israel. They also remarked that Hamas succeeded for years to navigate between the political and military realms and would continue to operate on the ground until it liberates all Palestinian land.

Last year, Hamas desisted from marking the anniversary of its founding on the assertion that it was not appropriate when Gaza was bleeding after the summer 2014 war. Far away from the limelight, Palestinian sources in Gaza told Haaretz that Hamas decided this year to hold the event, which constitutes a sort of demonstration of power. They said Hamas is facing criticism in Gaza about the lack of a Palestinian political horizon that would lead to reconciliation and a solution to the closing of the Rafiah crossing in the wake of Israel's continued seige of the Strip.

Gazans awoke Monday morning to thesounds of two Israeli Air Force strikes, which hit an open area next to an al-Qassam Brigades compound and a naval police compound. No injuries were reported. Sources in Gaza say World Jihad was behind Sunday night's rocket fire from Gaza that landed in an open space without doing any damage, which provoked the Israeli response.

Israel has refused to discuss the release of Hamas terrorists who were freed in the 2011 deal for Shalit, a soldier kidnapped in 2006, but then rearrested after Hamas kidnapped three Israeli teens in June 2014.

Also missing in Gaza is an Israeli citizen of Ethiopian origin, Avera Mengistu, who crossed into the Gaza Strip in September 2014.

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