Lieberman Denies Report That He Refuses to Negotiate With Hamas for Soldiers' Remains

'The army has a total commitment with regard to anyone in captivity. It is our top commitment to bring them home,' Israeli defense minister says.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman visits the Druze village, Daliyat al-Carmel, flanked by a resident and former lawmaker, Amal Nasser e-Din, on August 31, 2016.
Rami Shallush

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday denied a report that he is refusing to negotiate with Hamas over the repatriation of the remains of two soldiers presumed killed in the 2014 Gaza.

"What was reported about the soldiers' bodies was never said, neither openly nor behind closed doors," Lieberman said. "The army has a total commitment with regard to anyone in captivity. It is our top commitment to bring them home. The more we talk the harder we make it to achieve that goal," Lieberman said, at a military preparatory school in Daliat al-Carmel, a mostly Druze town near Haifa.

"My position is very clear. I voted against the Shalit deal and in retrospect I was right. I see that some of those who were freed have resumed terrorist activities, and to key positions in terrorist organizations, and in terrorist acts," Lieberman said, referring to a 2011 deal that freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from more than five years in captivity in Gaza.  

The agreement for Shalit's freedom was controversial because Israel had to free hundreds of Palestinians in exchange, many of whom had been jailed for involvement in violent attacks against Israelis.

"My position hasn't changed, but the commitment is to return the remains and prisoners," Lieberman said, 

Channel 10 said this week that Lieberman had said in private talks that in his view the remains of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin and Sergeant Oron Shaul, both killed in 2014's Operation Protective Edge, would not be returned from Gaza, and that he does not intend to cut a deal with Hamas, the organization believed to be holding their remains. 

"I don't see it happening," Lieberman was quoted to have said.

Lieberman's office had refused at the time to respond to the reports, except to confirm that he objected to prisoner swaps, for the same reason as he had opposed the Shalit deal.