Hamas Willing to Trade Information on Israelis Held in Gaza for Ventilators, Sources Say

Humanitarian aid amid the coronavirus outbreak would be the first of two steps, sources in Gaza say, as the pandemic reshapes negotiations on the long-standing issue of missing Israelis

A Palestinian policeman stands guard as a woman, wearing a mask as a precaution against the coronavirus, waits with other people outside a bank to withdraw cash, Gaza City, March 29, 2020.
A Palestinian policeman stands guard as a woman, wearing a mask as a precaution against the coronavirus, waits with other people outside a bank to withdraw cash, Gaza City, March 29, 2020.Credit: Mohammed Salem/Reuters

Hamas and Israel are holding indirect negotiations for a prisoner exchange deal, Palestinian sources said on Sunday, adding that under the proposed agreement, Israel would send humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, including ventilators, as the Hamas-controlled enclave braces for a potentially disastrous outbreak of the coronavirus.

Sources in Gaza said that in a proposed first stage of the deal, Hamas would give Israel information on the two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two soldiers held in Gaza, via Egyptian and Russian mediators. This would be followed by a second stage of negotiations for the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

Israeli officials denied a delivery of ventilators was being negotiated.

Hamas specifically suggested that Israel release a number of old and sick prisoners as part of the first stage of the deal, as well as women and minors held by Israel, officials in the Strip told Haaretz. Later on, Hamas hopes to secure the release of more of its prisoners.

According to officials in Gaza, Hamas previously offered to exchange information on the two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two IDF soldiers held in Gaza in exchange for the release of a number of prisoners held in Israel.

Simha Goldin, the father of Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin whose body is still held in Gaza, in 2018.Credit: Elyahu Hershkowitz

However, Musa Dudin, a member of Hamas' political wing, urged "caution" with reports on progress in the talks, arguing "the Israeli leadership hasn't stepped up" to promote neogtiations.

The current proposal, which is the initiative of Hamas Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, was first conveyed to Israel last week. Mahmoud al-Zahar, a member of the Hamas political wing, said his organization’s leadership will examine Israel’s response and assess whether it is serious. He specified that Hamas has made its conditions clear and conveyed to Israel a list of the prisoners it wants released.

The officials said that prisoners who had been released in exchange for abducted soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011, and subsequently rearrested, would not be part of the first phase of the proposed deal – but that Hamas would raise the issue at a later stage. Fifty-five Palestinian prisoners who were among those released in exchange for Shalit were rearrested in 2014 following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens.

Activists for the release of the Palestinian prisoners told Haaretz that as of the weekend there were no signs in Israeli prisons that a deal was imminent. The prisoners freed in the Shalit exchange and then rearrested had received no word on an impending release.

The leaders of security prisoners in Israel, however, did raise demands for better conditions behind bars, in a possible sign that negotiations are ongoing. They have also asked that the ban on obtaining some products in prison be lifted and that some of the prisoners’ leaders who are in separate wings be removed from those wings, including Walid Daqqa, who in 1986 was sentenced to 37 years for the kidnapping and murdering an Israeli soldier.

According to a senior Palestinian official, Israel recently made an attempt to separate the issues of missing Israeli civilians and Israeli soldiers’ remains, proposing that Hamas release Israeli civilian Avera Mengistu in exchange for “humanitarian measures.” However, according to the Palestinian official, the proposal did not go forward.

Kan Public Broadcaster reported this weekend that dozens of nurses, physicians and other medical personnel from the Gaza Strip were recently trained at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon and at the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza in techniques to treat coronavirus patients. The fact that Hamas allowed such cooperation to happened has been seen as a sign of good will toward further possible interactions with Israel.

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