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EXCLUSIVE – Hamas Official Says Group Set Conditions for Release of Captive Israelis

TEL AVIV – Speaking to Breitbart Jerusalem, a top Hamas official has responded to an Arab news media report about the prospect for negotiations to release four Israelis – two soldiers and two civilians – that the terrorist group claims to be holding in captivity, and whose pictures the movement published over the weekend.

Egypt has asked Hamas for information about the captive Israelis, Qatar’s Al Arabi al Jadid newspaper reported.

Egyptian officials filed the request over the last few weeks during recently renewed negotiations, after Hamas demanded information on four of its operatives who crossed into Egypt a few months ago and went missing, the paper added.

Israel asked Egypt to make the request, the paper reported, as part of a list of suggested “goodwill gestures” Cairo has demanded of Hamas in exchange for improving relations. Hamas, for its part, wants the opening of the Rafah border crossing and an end to “Egypt’s official war on Hamas.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent remarks on the recovery of the soldiers, who are believed to be dead, followed that session, the paper said, adding that Egypt will make no more demands on Israel’s behalf. It hopes that this will create an atmosphere more conducive to helping Cairo regain its traditional role as mediator between Hamas and Israel.

Hamas, the paper says, is happy to consider Egypt as a broker if it changes its position on the Palestinian armed struggle against Israel.

On Friday, Hamas publicly claimed for the first time that it was holding four Israelis captive: Two Israeli citizens who willingly crossed into Gaza and the bodies of two IDF soldiers killed during 2014’s Operation Protective edge.

Contacted by Breitbart Jerusalem, a top Hamas official said his movement will not include the issue of the captive Israelis in any negotiations with Egypt. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the Hamas delegation would only consider talks on the captives if they are connected to reopening other aspects of what he called the “Israel file,” mainly the conditions set by Israel for ending the siege of Gaza, allowing Hamas to rebuild the Strip, and releasing all the prisoners Israel re-arrested after a 2011 prisoner exchange deal.

He added that Hamas remains firm in its refusal to discuss the return of the four Israelis until Israel concedes to its demands. “Clearly, it’s going to be a difficult negotiation,” he said.

The Al Arabi al Jadid report, he stated, portrays Egypt as doing Israel’s bidding vis-à-vis the Palestinians, and “we refuse to involve ourselves in this Egyptian-Qatari tension, against the backdrop of which the paper seeks to portray the Egyptian president as an Israeli agent, especially around the issues that serve the Israeli occupation.”

Hamas Spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri told Breitbart Jerusalem, “Hamas’ positions were clearly drafted and given to the Egyptian team. We demand that Israel meet all its commitments from 2011 before discussing anything else.”

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