Hamas Rejects Proposed Israeli Swap for Soldiers Remains and Missing Civilians

Lior Lotan, the prime minister’s liaison for prisoners and missing people, says Hamas has via a third party turned down two Israeli proposals to free dozens of detainees and fighters' remains from the 2014 war.

Reuters

Hamas has rejected two deals offered by Israel to free dozens of prisoners and the remains of 19 Palestinians from a 2014 war in exchange for the remains of soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, in addition to the release of three Israeli civilians held in Gaza, an Israeli official said on Tuesday.

Lior Lotan, the prime minister’s liaison for prisoners and missing people, revealed at an anti-terrorism conference at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center that Israel had made the offer via a third party. 

He said Israel proposed to Hamas to release all prisoners and remains in Israel's possession since a 2014 war – 18 prisoners and the remains of 19 other Palestinians – in exchange for Goldin and Shaul's remains.

Lior Lotan, Benjamin Netanyahu's liaison for prisoners and missing people, September 13, 2016.
Tomer Appelbaum

A second proposal offered to free dozens of Palestinian civilians detained after infiltrating across the border, in exchange for the return of three Israeli civilians being held by Hamas, Lotan said.

Lotan said that the Israelis in captivity "are civilians who are ill, suffering from emotional exhaustion, captured by Hamas and being held until this day. Hamas is aware of the despair and difficulties faced by these civilians. This is not a security matter." 

He said "Israel has transferred to Gaza all the necessary medical documents to prove this is a personal and not a security issue." 

Sharply criticizing the militant group's conduct, Lotan said Hamas rejected both proposals "in an unprecedented way."

"There are norms that have been set for such matters. At the end of every confrontation, the sides exchange prisoners and fighters' remains. This is the norm that has been carried out by Israel and Hezbollah, both before the second Lebanon and after," he said.

Lotan accused Hamas of trying to include a discussion of the cases of Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank in any further talks about a swap of prisoners or remains.

Lotan said that the prisoners Hamas has sought to include in negotiations "have nothing to do with the Gaza Strip or Operation Protective Edge. Of course we cannot respond to any preconditions. This wouldn't be right either in terms of values or professionalism."

"But we have the conditions and methods necessary to pursue this issue, despite this," he said.

Lotan accused Hamas of not appearing to be looking out for the welfare of the Palestinian population of Gaza.

"At a time when Hamas is demanding certain norms of the rest of the world, Hamas is doing the opposite," he said, alluding to Hamas's requests for humanitarian aid.

"It is important for the family of a Hamas victim who participated in the capture of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin and in dragging his body into a tunnel, and whose body we now have, should know this," Lotan said.

"It is important that the family of a Hamas prisoner sentenced to 16 and a half years in prison, who could have been back home two years ago, and even tomorrow, should be aware," Lotan also said.

The family of Avra Mengistu, one of the three missing Israelis in Gaza, said in response:

"The fact that we are hearing abuot negotiations via the media is worrisome and disappointing, it makes a mockery of the pain felt by the families. Whoever is handling the issue must focus on trying to resolve the issue without making statements to the media."

In August, Haaretz reported that Lotan opposes the security cabinet approving a report that calls for stricter guidelines with regard to prisoner swaps.

The report recommends avoiding the mass release of prisoners in exchange for Israeli abductees or prisoners, like the 2011 release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for 1,027 Palestinians.

The report was originally filed in 2012, but the security cabinet is expected to consider its recommendations in the near future.