Israel, Hamas in advanced talks over prisoner swap — report

Israel and Hamas have reportedly been engaged in intensive indirect talks recently over the release of a number of Israeli nationals held captive by the terror group in Gaza.

The talks, which are being mediated by an unnamed third party, have gathered momentum over the past two weeks, following the return of Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, from a visit to Egypt earlier this month, Channel 1 reported Monday.

While in Egypt, Sinwar met with a number of officials, as well as former senior Fatah official Mohammad Dahlan, who was involved in the 2011 deal that led to the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

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

Yahya Sinwar, the new leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, attends the opening of a new mosque in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 24, 2017. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

In April, then Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal hinted that a prisoner exchange was in the works between the two sides, while in FebruaryHamas confirmed that it was engaged in talks through third-party mediators over a possible agreement, but said a deal had been rejected for not meeting its minimum demands.

Hamas’s confirmation of the talks followed Israeli media reports that Israel was seeking to reach a deal with the rulers of the Gaza Strip to secure the release of three Israeli men who crossed into the coastal territory of their own accord: Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, as well as Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima, whose presence in Gaza is unconfirmed.

Hamas, an Islamist terror group, also holds the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who the army determined were killed in action in the 2014 Gaza war.

Hamas demands that Israel release all prisoners from the 2011 exchange for Gilad Shalit who were rearrested in 2014 when three Israeli teens were abducted in the West Bank (it later emerged that they had been killed almost immediately) before any advancement in negotiations between the parties can take place.

Oron Shaul, Hadar Goldin and Avraham Mengistu. (Flash90/The Times of Israel)

The report came against a backdrop of fears of escalation in the Gaza Strip.

On Monday, a rocket fired from Gaza landed in an open area in southern Israel. No injuries or damage were reported.

In response to the launch, which was claimed by a Salafist group linked to the Islamic State, the Israeli Air Force carried out a number of strikes that the army said targeted Hamas infrastructure targets.

On Tuesday, Hamas condemned the Israeli airstrikes, saying that they were part of a “dangerous Israeli game.”

“The Israeli claim of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and the publication of a bulletin in the name of the Islamic State in order to create a pretext for the attack is a transparent and dangerous Israeli game,” the group said.

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