Hamas rejects Israeli demand for prisoner release

Hamas rejects Israeli attempts to link long-term Gaza ceasefire to exchange of prisoners
3 min read
31 May, 2021
Following talks with Egypt's intelligence chief, Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayyeh refused Israeli demands to link a long-term ceasefire in Gaza with the release of Israeli prisoners held by Hamas.
Khalil al-Haya (right) met Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel (left) in Gaza [Getty]

Hamas on Monday said that it would reject any attempts by Israel to tie the reconstruction of Gaza to the issue of Israeli prisoners held by Hamas.

Egypt previously informed Hamas that Israel would link any negotiations for a long-term truce in Gaza with the exchange of prisoners.

Hamas currently holds two Israeli soldiers. It says that they are alive but Israel insists they are dead and demands the return of their remains.

It is also detaining two other Israeli citizens who crossed into the Gaza Strip, one of whom is of Palestinian origin, while more than 4,000 Palestinian detainees are held in Israeli jails.

Israel launched a deadly 11-day assault on the Gaza Strip on May 10 and Egypt is currently mediating efforts to ensure that the current truce between the two sides turns into a long-term ceasefire.

However, Khalil al-Haya, a member of Hamas’s political bureau, insisted that the prisoner exchange issue should not be tied to the ceasefire.

 “We do not accept any link. We made progress in meetings [on the prisoner issue] before the attack, but the [Israeli] occupation has not been serious about this until now,” he said in Gaza after a meeting with Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, who is visiting the Palestinian territory.

“If they were serious about this we can continue with it quickly,” he added.

But Yahya Sinwar, the head of Hamas's political wing told AFP that the group had "no objection" to talks on reconstruction and an end to Israel's decade-long siege of Gaza "moving forward in parallel" with negotiations on a prisoner exchange.

"However, we categorically reject any link between these two aspects," he added.

Sinwar expressed optimism that a prisoner exchange could be negotiated.

"There is now a real opportunity to move this file forward. We are ready for indirect, urgent and rapid negotiations to conclude the case."

Al-Haya said that Hamas and the Egyptian delegation led by Kamel had discussed ending Israeli attacks in Gaza, Jerusalem, and “all other areas of Palestine”, according to the Arabic news website Arabi 21.

The Israeli assault on Gaza began after Hamas launched rockets at Israel in response to an attack by Israeli security forces on Palestinian worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which injured hundreds of people.

The Gaza Strip has been under a crippling siege by Israel for the past 15 years and al-Haya said that he had discussed the lifting of the siege with Egyptian officials, as well as efforts to reach agreement between Hamas and rival group Fatah, the dominant Palestinian faction in the West Bank.

Al-Haya said that Egyptian officials had agreed that the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip should proceed quickly, with homes, towers, and infrastructure destroyed by Israel rebuilt quickly.

“We reaffirmed the Egyptian role and bilateral ties between us and Egypt. We have a strategic relationship with Egypt and it plays a great role in supporting the Palestinian people,” he said.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has recently sent aid to Gaza and pledged $500 million for the reconstruction of the territory, but relations between the Sisi government, which came to power following a 2013 military coup, and Hamas have been tense in recent years.

Sisi deposed former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, in the 2013 coup and Egypt has considered Hamas an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, blacklisting the group in 2015. Relations improved in 2017 however when Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh visited Cairo.