Hamas Leader: Willing to Immediately Negotiate With Israel Return of Captives in Gaza

Yahya Sinwar’s statement comes in wake of Egyptian intelligence chief's meetings with Netanyahu and Hamas leadership in recent days ■ Deputy head of Hamas in Gaza says captives deal shouldn't be linked to Palestinian issues

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
Yahya Sinwar at a rally in Gaza City, last week.
Yahya Sinwar at a rally in Gaza City, last week.Credit: AP Photo/John Minchillo
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Hamas' political leader Yahya Sinwar said Monday that the militant organization is ready to immediately engage in negotiations to return Israeli civilians and bodies of soldiers held captive in Gaza.

Sinwar said there had been recent progress on the issue, but that it stopped because of political instability in Israel. "In the coming days we will see discussion in Cairo" in an effort to come to agreements, he said. He also advised people to "[r]emember the number 1,111. You'll find out later on what it means."

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Earlier Monday, Khalil al-Hayya, deputy head of Hamas in Gaza, commented on talks in Cairo aimed at reaching a long-term cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, saying that the Palestinian group was insisting that the issue of the captives not be tied to any other issue, like reconstruction in Gaza or Israeli actions in East Jerusalem. He added that Israel had not been serious about a deal before this month's military operation, and that "if there is a will, it's possible to make progress quickly."

Meanwhile, the head of Egyptian intelligence, Abbas Kamel, who is spearheading talks on consolidating the cease-fire, reconstruction in Gaza, the Israeli captives, and Palestinian reconcilation arrived in Gaza on Monday.

Sinwar's comment came a day after Kamel met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas amid efforts to build on the cease-fire reached between Israel and Hamas this month. Following Netanyahu's meeting with Kamel, the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement that he had raised the issue of the captives and the soldiers' remains.

Earlier this month, during fighting between Hamas and Israel, The New York Times reported that Hamas may repatriate several longtime Israeli captives in exchange for Jerusalem allowing the passage of goods and funds into Gaza to resume. A senior Israeli official said that a truce with Hamas will strive to include the return of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, as well as two Israeli civilians, Hisham al-Sayed and Avera Mengistu, who are being held captive in the enclave, the Times reported.

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