Egypt Considering Release of Hamas Operatives, Palestinian Sources Say

Release of special forces arrested in 2015 could ensure tensions between Israel and Hamas don't spiral out of control in upcoming months and possibly revive negotiations on prisoner exchange deal

FILE PHOTO: Hamas police officers sit at the closed entry to the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, southern Gaza Strip, January 8, 2019.
Khalil Hamra/AP

Egypt is considering releasing four Palestinian Hamas operatives arrested in the country in 2015, sources in the Gaza Strip said on Friday, in a move that could revive negotiations between Israel and Hamas on a potential prisoner exchange deal, which have been deadlocked for months.

The four Palestinians, officers in Hamas' naval commando forces, were taken by gunmen from a bus going from the Rafah border crossing on the Gaza-Egypt border to Cairo International Airport.

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Hamas believes they are held by Egypt, but Egyptian authorities have never officially admitted to holding them, despite recurring calls by the organization's leadership.

According to some Palestinian reports, they were headed for training in Iran. Their arrest, according to several reports, followed from intelligence provided by Israeli agencies.

Their release, if it is to occur, would be considered a significant achievement for Hamas in Gaza, and possibly seen as an Egyptian gesture aimed at ensuring tensions between Hamas and Israel don't spiral out of control in the coming months.

It could also be seen as a step that may push forward stalled negotiations between Israel and Hamas on the return of Israeli citizens and bodies of Israeli soldiers held in Gaza.

Hamas is holding two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who crossed the border into the Gaza Strip, as well as the bodies of soldiers Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul and Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, who were killed during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.