Photo Credit: Atia Mohammed / Flash 90
Yahya Sinwar (R), Hamas' political chief in Gaza, embraces General Abbas Kamel (L), Egypt's intelligence chief, as the latter arrives for a meeting with leaders of Hamas in Gaza City. May 31, 2021.

Gaza’s ruling Hamas terrorist leader Yahya Sinwar announced Monday its group is ready for “immediate negotiations” on a prisoner exchange agreement with Israel. “The matter of prisoner exchanges saw some movement during the past period but it came to a halt due to what [Israel] went through,” Sinwar said.

Sinwar himself was one of the high-value terrorists freed by Israel in a 2011 prisoner exchange with Hamas to secure the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held captive by the terror organization for more than five years. Sinwar, serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison after his conviction on murder charges, played a major role in the negotiations for Shalit.

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On Monday, the Hamas chief announced his readiness to negotiate the prisoner exchange immediately following a meeting with Egyptian intelligence service director General Abbas Kamel, who was in Gaza for talks after meeting with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

Israel is demanding the prompt return of the bodies of two fallen IDF soldiers held captive in Gaza since the 2014 summer war with Hamas, and two live Israeli captives, both with mental health issues, who crossed into the enclave on their own, to be completed prior to the start of rebuilding in Gaza.

Hamas is refusing to link reconstruction of the enclave to the success or failure of talks over the Israeli prisoners it still holds.

Sinwar deputy Khalil al-Hayya told reporters Monday, “We will not accept the prisoner file being tied to the reconstruction, or the siege, or Palestinian rights. Our brothers in Egypt understand this… The Israeli occupation is not serious at this point. If they were serious, they could have moved forward. We’re not the ones holding up [a deal].”

Al-Hayya added that Israel “must be required to stop its aggression in Gaza, Jerusalem, Sheikh Jarrah and all across Palestine… International decisions have been made in favor of a Palestinian state and refugees and so on. These must be implemented. Only then can calm and stability return.”

Although talks have begun with the goal of a securing a long-term ceasefire, there are a number of obstacles that could delay or even scotch the prospect entirely.

Among these is the apparent inability of Hamas to exert control over allied and ancillary terrorist groups in Gaza, some of whom have continued to test the limits of the current, fragile ceasefire that went into effect on May 20. There have been a number of provocations from Gaza since the ceasefire, including the infiltration of armed terrorists crossing the border to carry out attacks on Israeli civilians in nearby communities.

Another obstacle is the imminent changing of the guard in Israel, which will change most if not all the major players currently involved in the talks as center-left Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid ties up loose ends in forming a new coalition government.

A third obstacle has to do with the consensus in the Jewish State that Israeli leaders cannot ever again agree to trade a thousand or more terrorists for the freedom of an Israeli captive, regardless of status.

The final and perhaps greatest obstacle is presented by Hamas itself with demands that are similar to the terror group’s hysterical May 10 ultimatum to Israel to remove all its police and military personnel from both the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif) site and Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood by 6 pm, or face attack by the “joint operations room” of Gaza, meaning the combined terror groups.

At 6 pm on the dot that day, Hamas fired seven long-range rockets at the Israeli capital, Jerusalem – and thus began an 11-day mini-war between Israel and Hamas-led terror groups in Gaza.

Some 4,300 rockets were fired at Israeli civilians; of those, more than 700 of the projectiles exploded within Gaza territory, killing and wounding an unknown number of Arab women and children in the enclave.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.