Hamas official to Israel: Prisoner swap talks only after Schalit prisoners released

Sheikh Hassan Yousef neither confirms nor denies that Hamas holds two Israelis in captivity.

July 9, 2015 14:43
2 minute read.
Palestinians supporting Hamas chant slogans during a rally celebrating Hamas student supporters

Palestinians supporting Hamas chant slogans during a rally celebrating Hamas student supporters winning the student council election at Birzeit University in Ramallah. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Hamas said on Thursday that it would provide information about the two missing Israelis in the Gaza Strip only if Palestinians who were rearrested after being released in the Gilad Schalit prisoner swap were freed.

“If Israel makes a gesture of goodwill and releases those arrested again after they were released in the Schalit deal, Hamas would also make a gesture of goodwill,” and would reveal details on possible prisoners it holds captive, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a senior Hamas official in the West Bank, told Israel Radio.

Yousef conveyed in the interview that Hamas had no preferences as to whom would be a potential mediator in the hypothetical negotiations.

“You choose the mediators – European or Egyptian – and tell them that you are ready to talk about a new deal and we will be ready,” he said, adding, “but only after we close the Schalit case. Until then we will not talk about anything.”

Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam, released a video titled, “The Freedom of the Prisoner is Only a Matter of Time.”

The video features a number of prominent Hamas figures serving lengthy sentences in Israeli prisons. It’s not clear whether the video was released in response to the announcement about Ethiopian Avraham Mengistu and the unnamed Beduin, or if it is part of events marking the first anniversary of Operation Protective Edge.

In the video, the spokesman for Izzadin Kassam, Abu Obaida, addresses the Palestinian prisoners held in Israel: “Our heroic prisoners, the day when you will see the light of freedom is closer than ever. We promise you that it’s only a matter of time before you are freed.”

Hamas leader and cofounder Mahmoud Zahar told a Turkish news agency that Israel must honor previous agreements – a reference to the 2011 Schalit deal.

The Palestinians say that Israel has rearrested about 80 of the former prisoners released in the deal.

Zahar said that the former inmates must be re-released before there’s any talk about the fate of Israeli civilians or soldiers who are said to be missing in the Gaza Strip.

Another prominent Hamas figure, Salah Bardaweel, denied that his movement was conducting talks with Israel over a new prisoner exchange for a truce.

Bardaweel said that there was no link between the issue of a prisoner exchange and that of a truce between Hamas and Israel.

“We have made it clear that there will be no talk about a prisoner swap unless Israel re-releases all those who were rearrested after being released in the Schalit deal,” the Hamas official said.

Sources close to Hamas explained that the movement did not publish anything about missing Israelis, because it does not want to give Israel any information “for free.” The sources said that Hamas’s policy over the past year has been to refrain from making any public remarks regarding the fate of IDF soldiers and civilians who are believed to have gone missing in the Gaza Strip.

According to the sources, this is a tactic that Hamas learned from Hezbollah, referring to when the Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist group used to demand a price for any piece of information regarding missing IDF soldiers.

“Hamas will never let anyone know whether the missing Israelis are alive or dead unless Israel pays a price,” the sources said.

“And Hamas knows that it’s only a matter of time before Israel, under public pressure, would pay the price.”

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