Hamas Says Prisoner Swap Possible

YERUSHALAYIM -
Hamas Chief Yehya Al-Sinwar (left) and head of the Egyptian general intelligence Abbas Kamel at a meeting in Gaza, Monday. (REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/Pool)

In what could be a significant breakthrough, the Hamas governor of Gaza Yahya Sinwar said on Monday that the terror organization is ready for “immediate negotiations” to reach a prisoner exchange with Israel, The Times of Israel reported.

Sinwar made the comment after a meeting with Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel.

“The matter of prisoner exchanges saw some movement during the past period, but it came to a halt due to what [Israel] went through,” Sinwar said.

Hamas holds two Israeli civilians captive — Hisham al-Sayed and Avner Mengistu — as well as the bodies of two Israeli soldiers — Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul Hy”d.

Until now, as late as Monday afternoon, Hamas has rejected Israeli demands that the rebuilding of Gaza must be contingent on return of the two captives and the two bodies.

Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official said earlier on Monday: “The prisoner exchange issue is an independent matter, and we do not accept linking it to other issues, such as the reconstruction. The Egyptians understand our stance,” according to the Jerusalem Post.

Hayya said that indirect negotiations between to reach a prisoner swap was interrupted when the recent fighting broke out. “The occupation is not serious,” he said, referring to the prisoner exchange talks. “If it is serious, we can proceed with it quickly.”

While the Hamas officials did not relent in their refusal to accept a swap as a condition of reconstruction, they did seem to be indicating that a parallel negotiation could succeed, as long as it is not labeled as a condition.