Israel, Hamas said close to first stage of prisoner swap

Israel and Hamas are said to be close to preliminary deal that would pave the way for the release of a number of Israeli nationals held captive by the terror group in Gaza, a Lebanese paper reported Saturday.

According to the Al-Akhbar daily, quoting Hamas sources, the sides are close to an “information deal” that would be be similar to the exchange from 2009 in which Israel received a video in which captive soldier Gilad Shalit was seen alive and talking in exchange for the release of 20 female Palestinian prisoners.

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

It is also believed to be holding 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.

IDF soldiers Oron Shaul (left) and Hadar Goldin (right) (Flash90)

The Al-Akhbar report also quoted the source as saying that Hamas had a mystery high value Israeli prisoner

“Apart from the soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, the group is holding someone who will ensure the release of all the prisoners in Israeli jails,” the report said.

In recent weeks there have been increased reports of progress, particularly following the the return of Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, from a visit to Egypt earlier last month.

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 Shalit in exchange for some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Egypt is thought to be mediating between Israel and Hamas, who do not have direct communication.

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 demands that Israel release all prisoners from the 2011 exchange for 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 could take place.

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