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Swiss and German officials mediating between Hamas and Israel for long-awaited prisoner exchange

Similar recent attempts at a prisoner exchange deal have been unsucessful [Getty]

Date of publication: 6 May, 2020

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A Swiss diplomat and two German intelligence officials have reportedly joined forces with an Egyptian general to broker a prisoner swap between Hamas and the Israeli government.
Swiss and German officials have teamed up with an Egyptian general to start delicate negotiations between the Israeli government and Hamas - the militant rulers of the Gaza Strip - over a proposed prisoner exchange deal.

A Swiss diplomat and two German intelligence officials have joined the brokering team and have made joint visits to Israel, Gaza and Egypt in recent months, according to a report in the Hebrew-language daily Yedioth Ahronoth.

The news comes after Hamas poured doubt on the potential deal, saying on Friday there had been "no significant progress" and that Israel was "trying to evade its commitments to freeing prisoners."

The group's remarks flew in the face of recent reports of positive developments in the negotiations.

Indirect talks started in March after Hamas' leader in Gaza implicitly expressed the group's willingness to reach a deal with Israel that would release vulnerable Palestinian prisoners in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Terms would also include medical aid and other projects for the impoverished Gaza Strip for its efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

In return, Hamas has proposed to reveal information on the bodies of two soldiers, in addition to giving intel on two captive Israelis it alleges are soldiers – while Israel has claimed them to be civilians.

Hamas reportedly holds Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, and the remains of the bodies of Israeli soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul – killed during the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2014.

Israel had denied Hamas' proposal for the deal to be rolled out in two stages, the first of which would involve sending signs of life from Mengistu and al-Sayed.

Last month, Hamas was reported to have given Israel a list of 250 Palestinian prisoners it wanted released, including women, children and elderly detainees.

The involvement of the German side grew out of a meeting between Oron Shaul's mother Zehava and German officials in 2017, in which she asked Berlin to spearhead negotiations to pave the way for an exchange deal.

Several months later, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas met with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, and agreed for Berlin to take on the role of advancing negotiations.

Following the agreement, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel herself requested her Federal Intelligence Service chief Bruno Kahl to kickstart mediation efforts, and Kahl in turn tasked two senior intelligence officials with initiating communications with the Hamas leadership.

There have been several attempts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian prisoner exchange deal in recent years, though  none have succeeded.

Israel holds around 5,700 Palestinian prisoners, 44 women and 200 children.

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