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Report: Hamas delegation concludes visit to Cairo amid talks of prisoners exchange deal

July 12, 2017 5:50 P.M. (Updated: July 15, 2017 12:56 P.M.)
A Palestinian man waves the green flag of Hamas during a demonstration in Jerusalem on July 3, 2015. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli/File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- A delegation of Hamas leaders concluded their visit to Cairo on Monday night, according to an Egyptian newspaper, where the two sides discussed a potential prisoners exchange deal between the movement and Israel, while tightening the group’s security coordination with Egypt.

According to the Mada Masr newspaper, the delegation, which included Marwan Issa, the commander of Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades -- Hamas’ armed wing -- and Rawhi Mushtahi, a member of Hamas’ politburo, discussed Egypt’s efforts in mediating indirect talks between Hamas and Israeli leaders aimed at agreeing to a future prisoners exchange deal.

Lebanon’s al-Akhbar newspaper reported several days ago that Hamas and Egypt were “close to an agreement on conducting the first stage” of an exchange within the next three months.

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

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 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.

However, the scope and details of the alleged agreement have not been confirmed.

Meanwhile, Mada Masr reported that the recent visit to Egypt was a continuation of diplomatic efforts between Hamas and Egypt, after another Hamas delegation visited Cairo in June and established security agreements with Egyptian authorities, including creating a buffer zone on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt.

Hamas unveiled plans for the buffer zone last month, while Mada Masr reported that Hamas had also “conducted an intensive investigation” on Palestinian members of the Gaza-based Ibn Taymiya Media Center, an online Salafist media organization, and their ties to militant activities in Egypt’s North Sinai.

Hamas has increased efforts to improve ties with Cairo, which has long accused the de facto Gaza ruling party of aiding an insurgency in the northern Sinai Peninsula, which has been met with a harsh ‘counterterrorism’ crackdown by Egyptian authorities.

In April 2016 Hamas set up dozens of new border posts in an attempt to improve relations with Egypt.

Now that Hamas’ leadership is concentrated in Gaza, the political party is dependent on the goodwill of the Egyptian government to maintain its leaders’ freedom of movement through their shared border, where Cairo has enforced a brutal, decade-long Israeli siege.

Meanwhile, Hamas’ strengthened relationship with Egypt comes amid a growing alliance with discharged Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan -- with whom Hamas has confirmed an alliance to challenge the PA.

Dahlan reportedly met Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas' politburo, during a visit to Cairo, which was followed by a leaked report alleging that Dahlan was slated to be appointed as head of Gaza’s de facto government.

The UN has warned that Gaza, which marked its 10th year under an Israeli-enforced blockade last month, could become uninhabitable for residents by 2020, pointing to the devastation of war and the effects of Israel's longstanding blockade.
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