‘Significant progress’ achieved in prisoner swap negotiations – report

Palestinian Islamic Jihad called for kidnapping IDF soldiers to force Israel to release security prisoners.

Palestinian Hamas militants take part in an anti-Israel rally in Gaza City May 22, 2021 (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)
Palestinian Hamas militants take part in an anti-Israel rally in Gaza City May 22, 2021
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)

“Significant progress” has been made toward reaching a prisoner exchange agreement between Israel and Hamas, Palestinian sources told the Quds News Network news agency on Wednesday.

According to the unnamed sources, the progress was achieved after Israel reportedly made “a concession” regarding Palestinian security prisoners serving life terms in Israeli prisons.

The sources did not provide additional details about the ostensible progress.

But as Egypt pursues its efforts to reach a prisoner exchange agreement between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) organization called for kidnapping IDF soldiers to force Israel to release security prisoners.

Islamic Jihad forces hold a military parade in central Gaza, May 29, 2021. (credit: HAZEM ALBAZ/THE MEDIA LINE)Islamic Jihad forces hold a military parade in central Gaza, May 29, 2021. (credit: HAZEM ALBAZ/THE MEDIA LINE)

Khader Habib, a senior PIJ official in the Gaza Strip, said that Palestinian “resistance” groups must kidnap IDF soldiers in order to exchange them for security prisoners in future prisoner swaps.

“This is the only way to liberate the prisoners,” Habib told the Palestinian Khabar news agency. “The number of prisoners serving lengthy sentences is very high. There are 5,000 prisoners who are being subjected to the most severe forms of abuse.”

Habib said that the PIJ and other Palestinian armed groups have endorsed abductions as a “main means to liberate the heroic prisoners from the prisons of the Israeli occupation.”

Commenting on the announcement by Hamas’s Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades that the six prisoners who recently escaped from Gilboa Prison would be included in the next prisoner exchange agreement with Israel, Habib welcomed the move. “We and Hamas represent the backbone of the resistance against the Zionist occupier,” he said.

The six inmates were recaptured by Israeli security forces. Five of them are members of PIJ, while the sixth, Zakaria Zubeidi, is a member of the ruling Fatah faction headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The issue of the prisoners should remain at the top of the Palestinians’ agenda,” Habib said. “This is a national issue, and everyone must make every possible effort by all means to liberate them because the Zionist enemy can only acquiesce by forcing it to release our brave prisoners.”

On Tuesday, senior Hamas official Zaher Jabarin said that his group has presented mediators with a “roadmap” for a possible prisoner exchange agreement with Israel. “The ball is now in the court of the occupation,” he said, without providing additional details.

Jabarin said that Hamas is demanding that Israel release all the prisoners who were re-arrested after they were freed in the 2011 Gilad Schalit prisoner swap. Dozens of ex-prisoners who were released in the Schalit deal have been re-arrested by Israel.

Jabarin repeated Hamas’s opposition to linking the issue of a prisoner exchange agreement to the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. He claimed that Israel’s intentions remain unclear regarding a prisoner swap.

Ashraf Abu al-Hol, editor of the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, told the Palestinian Raya Media Network that it is not possible to confirm or deny progress in the prisoner exchange negotiations.

“But it can be said that the seriousness of the negotiations is greater than before,” he said.

Abu al-Hol said that Egypt was exerting pressure on Israel to reach a prisoner deal with Hamas. He claimed that the Israeli government was “hesitant and afraid” to make any concessions for fear of being criticized by the Israeli opposition.