There have been serious attempts aimed at reach a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas, Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas’s political bureau, said Saturday.
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One of the obstacles to progress, according to Meshal, has been Israel’s refusal to discuss the release of former prisoners which Israel had released during the Shalit prisoner exchange deal, but had subsequently re-arrested.
Hamas conditions any negotiations on their release, claiming that “Israel did not fulfill its obligations in the previous deal, making it unlikely that it would fulfill a new one.”
Meshal was speaking by video-conference on the occasion of Palestinian Prisoners’ Day. He said that some of the efforts had been leaked to the media. He did not say if any progress was being made, but noted that Hamas had clarified it would exact a price for any information.
Meshal said that he “told prisoners to be assured that Hamas was serious in its efforts to release them, as well as doing everything possible to end the occupation.”
Meshal noted that Hamas was exerting great pressure on Israel and on the families of Israeli captives, and that this was a psychological war no less important than the real one. “We’ve set ourselves a goal of cleaning out Israeli prisons.”
Earlier, Fathi Karawi, a senior Hamas official, said that Turkey and Qatar were trying to promote a deal, but he did not elaborate on any progress or breakthrough in talks on this issue.
A number of days ago it was reported that Hamas rejected an offer to swap one of the Israelis missing in Gaza with a member of Hamas jailed in Israel and suffering from mental issues. According to a source within Hamas, the organization sent a message through an intermediary that it opposes a "small" deal involving one person and wants "a whole deal or nothing."
According to the report, Hamas suggested to bring Egypt in as a negotiator.
Two Israelis – Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayeed – are missing in Gaza and are said to suffer from mental issues, but as of now Hamas has refused to hold talks on a humanitarian exchange in which they will be returned to Israel alongside the bodies of two soldiers who died in combat in the Strip. There is another Israeli missing in Gaza, but it is unknown if Hamas holds him or not.