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Hamas, Israel, reportedly advancing talks over prisoners exchange deal

July 9, 2017 5:49 P.M. (Updated: July 9, 2017 5:49 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israel and Hamas are making serious progress toward striking a prisoners exchange deal, according to reports from Israeli media and from Lebanon’s al-Akhbar newspaper.

The report comes a week after Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said that the release of Palestinian prisoners was closer than ever during his first speech since taking office.

The al-Akhbar report claimed that the two parties were “close to an agreement on conducting the first stage” of an exchange within the next three months, according to a translation in The Jerusalem Post.

The two sides reached a deal with the involvement of Russia, Egypt, and UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov, according to the report.

The first stage, allegedly already greenlit by Israel, would be similar to a 2011 deal in which Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was exchanged  for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Hamas is expected to deliver a video proving that it holds Israeli hostages via an intermediary, after which the exchange will begin to take place.

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. Jumaa Ibrahim Abu Ghneima, whose presence in Gaza is unconfirmed, will also be returned, according to the report.

Hamas will also allegedly release 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.

In return, according to al-Akhbar, Hamas demanded that all the prisoners who were released during the Shalit deal and later redetained be released once again; and that all Palestinian females and minors, in addition to members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, who are currently detained in Israeli prisons be released.

The Hamas sources were quoted in the report as saying Israel agreed to release all Shalit deal prisoners, with the exception of 53 prisoners, including longest-serving Palestinian prisoner Nael Barghouti, who Israel wants to keep in custody until the last stage of the deal, though Hamas said it refused this condition.

Hamas sources also told the Lebanese newspaper that “in addition to the two soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, the organization is holding captive a person who will enable the release of all (Hamas) inmates in Israeli prisons.”

The second stage reportedly will include the release of more Palestinian political prisoners, including Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) Secretary-General Ahmaf Saadat and prominent Fatah figure Marwan Barghouthi.

Meanwhile, Israeli news daily Haaretz also reported intense talks between Israel were under way, citing “Palestinian sources” in Gaza and the West Bank. According to the sources, the talks were being mediated by Egyptian intelligence officials and discharged senior Fatah figure Muhammad Dahlan. 

Sources close to the families of Palestinian prisoners also told Haaretz that information they have received did indeed indicate advances toward a deal, but they stressed that its scope remained unknown.
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