Germany is engaged in indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas over a possible prisoner exchange deal under which four Israeli prisoners would be released in exchange for Arab terrorists behind bars in Israel, Al-Hayat reported Thursday.
For more than three years, Germany has been holding meetings with Hamas similar to the role it played in successfully negotiating the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011 in exchange for 1,050 Arab terrorists, Western sources told Al-Hayat.
According to those sources, the new mediation involves former Head of the German Federal Intelligence Service, Ernst Uhrlau, who mediated the exchange between Israel and Hezbollah of the bodies of captured Israeli soldiers for captured terrorists in January 2004, and the return in 2008 of the remains of two Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, whose kidnapping triggered the 2006 Lebanon war, and was involved in the 2011 Gilad Shalit deal.
The sources said German envoys visited Gaza several times in complete secrecy, and held meetings with a number of Hamas leaders who were commissioned to negotiate with Israel through a third-party, to discuss ways to complete the exchange deal. The contacts and meetings take place on two levels, the first through the German diplomatic representation in the PA and in Israel, and the second through a new German mediator assigned to this task, working from Berlin.
The sources did not give any details or clarifications about the progress in the negotiations, but stressed that Israel and Egypt are placing their trust in the German mediators, whose role is to reach understandings on the details of the deal and the numbers of terrorists to be released, while Egypt, which follows all these negotiations, will eventually introduce the deal and supervise the exchange, as it did in the Shalit deal.
The Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, in 2014 captured Israeli officer Hadar Goldin and soldier Oron Shaul. Israel announced that the officer and the soldier had been killed, before changing the announcement and declaring them missing.
In addition, two Israeli civilians who wandered into the Gaza Strip are being held by Hamas.
Israel demands that the fate of the soldiers and the civilians be known before the start of negotiations, while Hamas insists that no information be given about them before the release of 54 prisoners who were released by Israel during the Shalit deal and re-arrested over the past four years.
The same sources revealed to Al-Hayat the existence of a diplomatic crisis between Israel and Germany. The crisis broke out when Israeli security men insisted on inspecting a German diplomatic vehicle at the Erez crossing on its way from Gaza to the city of Ramallah about a month ago. The diplomats, who had been held at the checkpoint for about three hours, were told that the order to search all diplomatic belongings going through Erez came after a French diplomat smuggled weapons through the checkpoint a few months ago.
The German foreign ministry intervened and pressured the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which instructed the security services to allow the delegation to leave the following day without an inspection.