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Hamas, Israel reportedly close to reaching prisoner swap

CM 05/09/2021

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Egypt is exerting immense pressure on Hamas and Israel to agree to a prisoner exchange agreement, Palestinian and Egyptian sources said on Sunday.
The Egyptians are hoping that such a deal could pave the way for a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, the sources said.
Unconfirmed reports in a number of Palestinian and Egyptian media outlets claimed over the past few days that some progress has been achieved toward reaching a prisoner swap.

Hamas is holding the remains of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were killed in the 2014 war with Israel, as well as two Israeli citizens, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who crossed into the Gaza Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2105, respectively.
According to the reports, Israel’s recent easing of restrictions imposed on the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave are aimed at facilitating the Egyptian mission of securing a prisoner exchange deal and achieving a long-term truce.
The Palestinian daily Al-Quds reported that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was personally involved in the contacts to achieve a Hamas-Israel deal.
“The coming days may witness a development in the positions of Hamas and Israel toward taking confidence-building steps in order to move forward with a prisoner exchange deal in several stages,” the newspaper said, citing informed Palestinian and Egyptian sources. “Cairo is exerting great pressure for the conclusion of a prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and Israel as part of a comprehensive plan aimed at reaching an agreement that guarantees a long-term truce in the Gaza Strip.”
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said on Saturday that his group was continuing its efforts to secure the release of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.
“The efforts that are being made by Hamas to secure the release of all the Palestinian prisoners are continuing,” Haniyeh said in a phone call to a Palestinian woman who was released from Israeli prison last week.
Haniyeh did not comment on the reports about an imminent deal with Israel.
The woman, Anhar al-Deek, from the village of Naima near Ramallah, was arrested in March on suspicion of trying to carry out a stabbing attack at the Sde Ephraim settlement outpost in the West Bank. She was four months pregnant at the time.
Haniyeh told al-Deek that the issue of the prisoners will remain at the top of Hamas’s list of priorities.
Sheikh Hassan Yusef, a senior Hamas official in the West Bank, said that his group was “devoting all its energies and efforts to reach another prisoner exchange deal with Israel.”
Last week, the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar claimed that Hamas has informed the Egyptians of its readiness to strike a prisoner exchange agreement with Israel.
The newspaper said that Hamas was prepared, in the first phase of the proposed deal, to hand over the bodies of the soldiers in return for the immediate release of women, minors and sick inmates from Israeli prisons.
The move would be followed by a series of measures by Israel and other international parties to improve the humanitarian and economic situation in the Gaza Strip, according to Al-Akhbar.
Hamas is demanding the release of hundreds of prisoners, including many who are serving lengthy prison sentences for their roles in terrorist attacks, sources close to the Gaza-based group said. The Hamas leadership has prepared a list with the names of the prisoners it wants freed, the sources added.

A Palestinian prints posters in preparation for a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, 2011 (credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS)A Palestinian prints posters in preparation for a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, 2011 (credit: MOHAMMED SALEM/ REUTERS)

“The ball is in the court of the Israeli government,” the sources said.
Despite the reports about a possible breakthrough, Saleh Arouri, deputy chairman of the Hamas politburo, said last weekend that there was no “substantial development” in the position of the Israeli government towards a prisoner exchange deal.
Arouri told the Al-Jazeera TV network that the mediation efforts have yet to achieve any progress.
“The Egyptian brothers are making efforts, but the negotiations have not moved forward,” he said.
Arouri said that Hamas has rejected Israeli attempts to link a prisoner exchange deal to a ceasefire or the lifting of the “siege” in the Gaza Strip. “The prisoner deal is not connected to any other issues,” he stressed.
The Hamas official said that the details concerning the names and numbers of the prisoners held by Israel are left to the negotiators. Hamas insists that any deal include prisoners serving lengthy sentences, women, minors, sick and elderly inmates, in addition to the bodies of deceased terrorists held by Israel, Arouri said.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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