Hamas, the ruling Islamist terrorist organization in Gaza, is reportedly prepared to negotiate with Israel regarding a prisoner swap, according to hints dropped by Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar on Monday.
During his recent visit to Egypt, Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi demanded that Hamas release the bodies of IDF soldiers Lt. Hadar Goldin and St. Oron Shaul and two Israeli civilians Hisham al-Sayed and Avera Mengistu. The Israeli soldiers were killed during the Gaza War in 2014. The two Israeli civilians held captive in Gaza reportedly entered the Hamas-controlled coastal enclave on their own under disputed circumstances.
“There is a real opportunity to achieve progress,” the Hamas chief told reporters after meeting Egyptian Intelligence chief Abbas Kamel in Gaza City regarding a potential exchange of prisoners with the Jewish state.
“We are confident that we are able to extract our rights. I want to tell you something. Remember the number 1,111. What are the details of this number? I can’t say at this moment. But you need to remember this number well,” declared Sinwar.
The figure 1,111 is apparently the number of Arab terrorist prisoners held in Israel that Hamas demands released in return for the bodies of the two IDF soldiers and the two Israeli civilians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi recently told senior Egyptian officials that the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip would be linked to the issue of a prisoner exchange.
However, Sinwar told the Egyptian intelligence chief that Hamas opposes linking the prisoner exchange to the issue of rebuilding Gaza.
“We talked about the need to accelerate the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, and we welcome all efforts in this regard. The prisoner-exchange issue is an independent file, and we do not accept linking it to other files, such as the reconstruction. The Egyptians understand our stance,” declared Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official in Gaza.
In its early decades, Israel’s default policy was to reject negotiations with terrorists and prisoner swaps. In perhaps the most daring and successful anti-terrorism raid in modern history, Israel rescued around 100 Jewish and Israeli civilians held prisoners by Arab and German terrorists at Entebbe airport in Uganda in July 1976. Originally dubbed Thunderbolt, the famous operation was later renamed Operation Yoni after Netanyahu’s older brother Yonatan was killed while commanding Israeli soldiers during the rescue mission.
However, times have changed and in recent years Israel has been conducting indirect prisoner exchange negotiations with both Hezbollah and Hamas. In October 2011, the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was returned to the Jewish state after being held captive by Hamas in the Gaza Strip for over five years. In return for securing Shalit’s release, the Jewish state released 1,027 members of Hamas and other terrorist organizations.
As in the past, the Egyptian government is deeply involved in securing a long-term ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. Despite its own financial problems, Cairo has reportedly pledged $500 million to the international rebuilding effort of the Gaza Strip.
While Egypt does negotiate with the Hamas leadership, the country clearly prefers the more moderate Fatah leadership led by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.
On Sunday, Abbas told the Egyptian intelligence chief that any plans concerning Gaza must be coordinated with the Ramallah-based Fatah organization. In practice, Fatah has no say in the Gaza Strip after its rival Hamas ousted it and took control over the Mediterranean coastal enclave in 2007.
In recent years, Egypt has struggled to mediate between bitter rivals Fatah and Hamas in an attempt to establish a united Palestinian Authority administration, so far with no success.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.