Report: Hamas, Israel in Advanced Talks Over Prisoner Exchange Deal

Hamas terrorists watch as a bus carrying Palestinian prisoners arrives at the Rafah crossing with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip, October 18, 2011, as part of an exchange with Israel for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90, File)

Israel and Hamas have been engaged in “intensive but indirect” talks over a possible deal to release a number of Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel in exchange for Israelis held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Channel One reported Monday.

The report 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.

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

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

Israel is seeking a deal with Hamas to secure the release of three Israeli men who crossed into the Gaza Strip 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, an Israeli Bedouin man who has schizophrenia, was last seen when he crossed into Gaza in April 2015.

Hamas also claims to hold the bodies of two IDF soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, Hy”d, who were pronounced dead by Israel during the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, though Hamas has never explicitly said whether the two soldiers were alive or dead.

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

According to Palestinian prisoners’ rights groups, some 6,200 Palestinians were held in Israeli custody as of May.

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