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Hamas, Israel reportedly in 'advanced talks' over prisoners exchange deal

June 27, 2017 5:23 P.M. (Updated: June 27, 2017 5:23 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israel and Hamas have reportedly been engaged in "intensive indirect" talks recently over possible deal to release a number of Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel in exchange for Israelis held by Hamas in the besieged Gaza Strip, Israel’s Channel 1 reported Monday.

The report, according to a translation by Times of Israel, said that the talks were being mediated by an unnamed third party, and gathered momentum over the past two weeks after Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar returned from a diplomatic visit to Cairo earlier this month, when Sinwar notably met with discharged Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan.

Egypt has previously been named in reports as the country mediating between the two sides.

In February, Hamas confirmed that it had been engaged in talks through third-party mediators over a possible prisoners’ exchange agreement, but said a deal had been rejected for not meeting its minimum demands.

Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qasim said at the time that the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas and the body responsible for prisoners exchange negotiations with Israel, said what Israel was offering did not “meet even the minimum demands made by the resistance.” 

“Statements of Israeli leaders are just part of their lies directed at the families of the imprisoned Israeli soldiers to convince them they are putting in efforts to bring them back,” he said. 

The remarks followed Israeli media reports that Israel was seeking to reach a deal with Hamas to secure the release of three Israeli men who crossed into the besieged coastal enclave of their own accord: Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, as well as Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima, whose presence in Gaza is unconfirmed, according to Israeli media.

Avraham Mengistu, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent, has reportedly been held by Hamas since September 2015 when he accidentally wandered into Gaza. Hisham al-Sayed, a young Israeli-Bedouin man who has schizophrenia, was last seen when he crossed into the Palestinian territory in April 2015.

Hamas also claims to hold the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were pronounced dead by Israel during the 2014 war in Gaza, though Hamas has never explicitly said whether the two Israeli soldiers were alive or dead.

Hamas has repeatedly insisted that Israel must release all prisoners who were freed as part of the 2011 Gilad Shalit deal who have since been redetained before starting talks of a new prisoner swap deal.

According to Palestinian prisoners' rights group Addameer, some 6,200 Palestinians were held in Israeli custody as of May.
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