by Andrew Friedman
Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas in Gaza, said Monday his organization is prepared to discuss a prisoner swap with Israel, on condition that the deal will free Hamas members who were released in the controversial 2011 deal for IDF hostage Gilad Shalit, but subsequently re-arrested.
Israel released 1,027 convicted murderers in order to obtain Shalit’s freedom.
Currently Hamas holds the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were killed in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge, as well as three Israeli civilians still believed to be alive: Avera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed and Jumaa Abu Ghanima. Mengistu, al-Sayed and Abu Ghanima all suffer from mental illness. All three reportedly crossed into Gaza of their own volition.
Sinwar’s announcement comes after several days of heated debate in Israel over stalled negotiations to retrieve the bodies of Golden and Shaul, as well as freedom for Mengistu, al-Sayed and Abu Ghanima. Last week, chief negotiator Lior Lotan resigned, officially saying little other than that the “intense” position should be rotated on a regular basis.
Lotan’s resignation sparked a series of comments by public officials and family members about the negotiations, including steep criticism of the political echelon by Simcha and Leah Goldin, Hadar’s parents, who singled out Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman as a “coward.”
Notably, however, the Goldins have not called for a lopsided release to bring their son home for burial. Rather, they say the Israeli government could be doing more to obtain their son’s body, especially by curtailing privileges and family visits for Hamas members serving time in Israeli jails.
Lotan appeared to promote a similar strategy. In an audio recording obtained by Army Radio and released to the media Monday, Lotan advocated an aggressive strategy to counter Hamas.
“If the enemy is holding one of our soldiers, Israel should be holding 200 of theirs at the end of a war. If [they have] two [of our people] then we should be holding 400, if it’s three of ours then it should be 600 of theirs,” Lotan said on the recording.
Sinwar’s call for talks also comes at a time that increasing numbers of Israeli politicians are calling on the government to adopt a series of recommendations by former Chief Justice Meir Shamgar to prevent lopsided swaps. A committee headed by Shamgar drafted the policy recommendations in 2008 at the height of the Gilad Shalit story, but the government never published or accepted the document.