Israel 'Avoiding Prisoner Exchange Deal,' Hamas Spokesman Says

The return of two civilians and the bodies of two soldiers held in Gaza might be at risk 'for reasons Israel knows,' Palestinian group states

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Family of Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin protesting near the Gaza border, November 2018.
Family of Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin protesting near the Gaza border, November 2018.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Israeli government is "avoiding a prisoner exchange deal," a spokesman for Hamas' military wing said Tuesday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government "are lying and smearing the families of soldiers they had sent to the battlefield," Iz al-Din al-Qassam's Abu Ubaida added in a televised speech.

Two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers are held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Hisham al-Sayed and Abera Mengistu crossed separately into Gaza on their own, while Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul were killed during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in the summer of 2014. Several reported attempts over the past few years to negotiate a prisoner swap deal between Israel and the Palestinians have failed.

>> Read more: The price of being a black Israeli when you’re missing in Gaza | Opinion

Abu Ubaida told the four families they should "ask Netanyahu and [former Defense Minister Moshe] Ya'alon where they've abandoned your children, and ask [former chief military rabbi and current Habayit Hayehudi leader] Rafi Peretz how he lied to you and fed you false information to serve political interests."

He urged the Israeli government to resume negotiations, arguing "the prisoner portfolio might go down the drain for reasons Israel knows," and reiterated Hamas' claim that Israeli negotiators have "never raised the issue of Abera Mengistu," an Ethiopian Israeli, "which proves that the Israeli leadership still divides the public by color and is being racist."

Two weeks ago, former Israeli coordinator on Israeli hostages and missing soldiers Lior Lotan said the return of the civilians and the soldiers' bodies should not be tied into ongoing talks between Israel and Hamas over the situation in the Strip, and a separate accord must be reached. “I am not talking about a bad deal like the release of Gilad Shalit, but an agreement from a position of strength. To reach that point, time is not something that is working to our advantage,” he added. 

Shalit was abducted in the course of his army service on the Israeli border with Gaza in 2006 and released in 2011 in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.

A senior defense official told Haaretz that the issue of the soldiers’ bodies and the captives “is a matter that will never happen ... in exchange for humanitarian aid.” 

“Hamas will not stray from this equation,” the official said. “This is what leads people to go out and commit terrorist attacks. They know that what will bring them back is a deal and it is important to Hamas and the Palestinian public … It will not be possible to return the fallen and captives in return for a water desalination plant.”