Hamas Says It Rejected Israeli Offer of Prisoner Swap

'What Israel offered isn't near the minimum of our demands,' Hamas tells Al-Jazeera. At least two Israelis are held in Gaza, while Israel holds the brother of a senior Hamas operative.

Israelis protest for Avera Mengistu outside Prime Minister's Residence.
Emil Salman

Hamas' military wing has rejected an Israeli offer of a prisoner swap, the group told Al Jazeera on Wednesday. "What Israel offered isn't near the minimum of our demands," Iz al-Din al-Qassam was reported as saying.

According to the report, the offer had been made through mediators. No other details were offered.

Earlier this week Israel Radio reported that Hamas had rejected an Israeli proposal to swap the missing Israelis now in Gaza, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, with a Hamas member with mental problems incarcerated in Israel. Hamas, however, said it would not enter a deal involving the exchange of one or two people, but demands "a whole deal or nothing." 

The source told Israel Radio that Hamas suggested Egypt broker the deal.

Last week Haaretz reported that Israel has been holding a Hamas member from the Gaza Strip for two months. The man, whose family claims he has mental problems, is a brother of one of the Hamas military leaders in the Strip. The two Israelis missing in Gaza are also believed to be mentally ill.

To date, Hamas has declined to enter into discussions about a prisoner swap on humanitarian grounds – returning the two missing Israelis and two bodies of Israeli soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were killed during the Gaza war in mid-2014. A third missing Israeli, Juma Abu Ghanima, is believed to have crossed over into Gaza but it is not clear if he is being held by Hamas.

Hamas has made clear that before advancing to any deal, Israel has to once again free the prisoners it had previously released as part of the Gilad Shalit deal, but later rearrested. The "Shalit prisoners," most of whom hail from East Jerusalem and the West Bank, had their sentences reinstated after three Israeli teenagers were murdered in 2014.

The reported progress in negotiations has apparently exacerbated tensions in Israeli prisons between Hamas prisoners and the Prison Service. Hamas prisoners in southern Israel were collectively punished for two attacks on wardens, which resulted in mild injuries.