Mengistu, Goldin and Shaul.
(photo credit: Courtesy,REUTERS)
Israel and Hamas are close to an agreement on conducting the first stage of a prisoner exchange within the next three months, Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper reported on Saturday.
The two sides reached a deal with the involvement of Russia, Egypt, and UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov, according to the report. Al-Akhbar stressed that “Israel green-lighted the first stage in the deal.”
That first stage would resemble the exchange for IDF tank gunner Gilad Schalit six years ago. Hamas is expected to send via an intermediary a video of the Israeli hostages. As in 2011, after the video is delivered to Israel, the exchange will begin to take place.
According to Al-Akhbar,
the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were killed in action in the Gaza Strip during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, will be returned to Israel along with three Israeli citizens, Abera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed and Jumaa Abu Ghanima.
In return, Hamas demands all the prisoners who were released during the Schalit deal, but were later rearrested by Israel (after violating the terms of their release). In addition, Hamas demands that female inmates, teenagers and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council detained in Israeli prisons be released.
In his latest speech, Hamas Politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh claimed that “the release of prisoners could be imminent.”
Hamas sources told the Lebanese newspaper that they are “very close to a prisoners exchange deal” with Israel.
Furthermore, these sources added: “In addition to the two soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, the organization is holding captive a person who will enable the release of all [Hamas] inmates in Israeli prisons.”
While the official position of Israel is that both soldiers were killed in action, Hamas repeatedly claims they are alive.
The second stage of the deal is, according to the sources, to include the release of more Palestinian inmates. Ahmed Sa’adat, secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, in prison for heading an illegal terrorist organization and for his responsibility for all actions carried out by his organization, particularly for the murder of tourism minister Rehavam Ze’evi in 2001; and Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti, serving five life sentences for five terrorist murders, are on the top of the list of names.
Again according to the Hamas sources, “Israel has agreed to release all the prisoners [released during the Schalit deal] who were apprehended again, with the exception of 53 prisoners, including Nail Barghouti whom they want to hold until the last stage of the deal – but Hamas refuses to accept this condition.”
Nail Barghouti, who killed bus driver Mordechai Yekuel on the Ofra-Shilo road on January 29, 1978, is the longest serving terrorist prisoner in Israeli prison.
He was released in the Schalit deal, and rearrested two years later after violating the terms of his release.