TEL AVIV – Amid Arabic-language reports that Israel and Gaza-based terror group Hamas are heading toward another prisoner swap deal, Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday called on the government not to release “live terrorists” for the bodies of dead soldiers.
Hamas sources over the weekend were quoted in the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar as saying that an impending “information for prisoners” swap deal was in the cards, leading to the accelerated release of the bodies of fallen soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who died during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. According to the report, the deal, which would be finalized within the next three months, would also lead to the release of three Israeli citizens currently being held by the terror group. Hamas said the prisoner exchange would include terrorists released in the Gilad Shalit deal that have since been re-imprisoned.
“Terrorists released in the Shalit deal returned to murder many Jews,” Bennett said in a statement, noting the example of Yahya Sinwar, the newly elected Hamas prime minister in Gaza who was released as part of the deal. “He is completely immersed in the planning of ways to kill Jews. With all the pain, we must stand strong.”
“You cannot release live terrorists for the bodies of our soldiers,” Bennett continued. Instead of releasing prisoners, he urged, “we must increase the pressure and hurt Hamas so holding the bodies is no longer worth it. Kidnapping must be made a burden, not an asset.”
Bennett’s words echoed those of Goldin’s family who said on Saturday that Israel must “change the equation” in its attitude toward the capture of soldiers.
“We want the government to turn holding Israeli soldiers and civilians from a treasure to a burden for Hamas,” the family said in a statement.
“We cannot play into Hamas’ hands and into its system of misinformation,” the statement continued, noting that it was unclear whether there was any truth to the Lebanese report.
Israeli citizens Avraham Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed and Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima are believed to be held by Hamas after entering Gaza of their own accord. All three apparently suffer from mental health issues.
On Sunday, a report by the Gulf-based al-Khaleej Online said a Hamas official denied that there had been any progress in a swap deal.
The Times of Israel reported another Hamas official saying that the reports were false and the terror group “has not budged even one inch in our demands.”
“In recent times there have been several attempts to mediate between Israel and Hamas about the prisoners, however we made it clear that we do not intend to start negotiations until the 58 prisoners from the Shalit deal who were freed and rearrested are released,” he said, referring to Israel’s recapture of terrorists following the abduction and murder of three Israeli teens in 2014.
While an Israeli official said there had been some level of progress, the two sides were nowhere near a deal and there certainly was no intention on Israel’s part to release prisoners in exchange for information only.
The Lebanese report quoted the Hamas source as saying that in addition to Shaul and Goldin, Hamas is also holding “someone who will ensure the release of all the prisoners in Israeli jails.”