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Israel enlists Egyptian mediators to progress Hamas prisoner swap deal Open in fullscreen

The New Arab

Israel enlists Egyptian mediators to progress Hamas prisoner swap deal

Palestinian security forces take coronavirus precautions in Gaza [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 April, 2020

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Egyptian officials are brokering indirect negotiations between Israel and Gaza's leaders aiming to exchange prisoners amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Israeli government is willing to advance negotiations with Hamas over a prisoner exchange, sources linked to the Egyptian mediation team have revealed to The New Arab's Arabic-language service.

Israeli authorities have enlisted an Egyptian mediation team which has been instructed to tell Hamas that its request for vulnerable prisoners to be released could be advanced if it discloses information on the status of the four Israelis currently held in the Gaza Strip.

Yahya Sinwar, Hamas' leader in Gaza, hinted earlier this month that the group would be open to such a deal, if Israel agrees to release female, elderly and vulnerable Palestinian prisoners due to the outbreak of Covid-19 in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was willing to hold immediate, indirect talks on the matter, however Hamas has voiced its scepticism that Israel will follow through on such a deal.

Israel has demanded that Hamas accept its conditions for the deal, which would then be implemented gradually over several months, to ensure that the Palestinian factions invovled to not stage any kind of escalation such as rocket strikes, according to the sources.

The sources added that Cairo had communicated these conditions to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who had responded positively.

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Egypt's intelligence service made a specific request to Islamic Jihad's Secretary General Ziad Nakhleh to restrain from launching any attacks during the sensitive negotiation period.

Several reported attempts to reach a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and the Palestinians have failed in recent years.

Israel announced earlier this month that it was launching an initiative to provide Gaza with ventilators, which may also be used as a bargaining chip for the release of its captives.

Hamas holds four Israelis in captivity. Two soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, have been held in Gaza since the 2014 war and two civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who entered the besieged Palestinian enclave in 2014 and 2015 are believed to be held by Hamas.

Israel currently holds around 5,700 Palestinian prisoners, including 200 children, 44 women, five members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and 27 journalists.  470 Palestinian prisoners are held in "administrative detention" without charge or trial.

Both Israel and the Palestinians fear the consequences of prisoners contracting coronavirus.

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