Hamas Denies Newest Reports About Deal Over Missing Soldiers

YERUSHALAYIM -
Friends and family of late IDF soldier Oron Shaul protest outside the Ashdod port on July 3, 2016. (Flash90)

An official Hamas spokesperson on Sunday denied reports that the terror organization was close to a deal with Israel over the possible release of terrorists from Israeli prisons in exchange for information on the fates of missing Israeli soldiers Hadar Goldin, Hy”d, Oron Shaul, Hy”d, and Avram Mengistu. Channel Ten quoted a report in a Gulf newspaper Sunday as denying the weekend reports that a deal was brewing, with the Hamas official saying that “as of this moment the deal is frozen. There are minor international efforts to bridge the gaps, but there have been no positive results yet.”

In the latest spate of reports about a deal, sources in Gaza said over the weekend that Israeli and Hamas officials were “very close” to finalizing a deal that would have Israel release a slew of terrorists in exchange for information on the fates of Goldin, Shaul and Mengistu, who reportedly entered Gaza of his own volition in September 2014. The list of terrorists to be released in exchange for information includes the terrorists who were re-arrested after they were released in the Gilad Shalit deal, and several members of Hamas’s legislative body who were arrested by Israel.

The sources said that the deal would be a prelude to a much bigger one, in which Israel would release thousands of terrorists in exchange for the remains of Goldin and Shaul, and the release of Mengistu. The sources, quoted in the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper over the weekend, said that the structure of the deal was similar to the one that preceded the actual release of Shalit, when in 2009 Israel released 20 female terrorists in exchange for a video showing Shalit, a prelude to the major release of terrorists for Shalit in 2011.

The families of the missing soldiers said Saturday night that they were not aware of any deals. A spokesperson for the Goldin family said in a statement that “over the past three years we have known much suffering, pain and disappointment regarding everything having to do with Hadar. We have not received any official word from the government on negotiations for the return of Hadar, and we continue to pray for his return.” The Shaul family said that all it knew about any deal was what it read in the media. “In the coming weeks we will mark three years since Operation Protective Edge, the war in which Oron went missing, but for us the war is still going on. We appeal to the prime minister not to leave our son in the hands of Hamas. In the same manner that you sent him to fight to defend Israelis, you can bring him home,” the family said.