Israel: Security officials in Cairo for Hamas prisoner exchange talks [and fail]

Hamas's Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel meet in Gaza (Mohammed Salem - Reuters)

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  October 6, 2021

Following a visit by high-ranking Hamas officials to Cairo, Israeli security team discuss a possible truce, the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and a prisoner swap.

An Israeli security delegation visited the Egyptian capital of Cairo on Wednesday for talks about a “truce” with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and a possible prisoner exchange with the movement, according to Kan news.

The Israeli news channel said that the officials would meet with Egyptian counterparts and focus on a prisoner swap with Hamas.

Egypt has played a vital role as a mediator since the May flare-up between Israel and the Palestinian armed factions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, securing a ceasefire after almost two weeks of fighting.

There are currently 4,650 Palestinian prisoners inside Israeli jails. Hamas has captured four Israelis since 2014, two of them soldiers.

On Sunday, a delegation of high-ranking Hamas leaders visited Cairo, including Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’s political bureau, Yahya Sinwar, the head of Hamas in Gaza, his deputy Saleh al-Arouri, and the head of the external bureau Khaled Mashal.

On Wednesday, Hamas said in a statement that its representatives had met with Abbas Kamel, the head of Egyptian intelligence, and had discussed the prisoner exchange issue. It added that Egypt’s role is crucial in reaching a deal with Israel, though the dossier remains at a “standstill”.

The meeting, details of which remain secret, was held at the country’s intelligence headquarters in Cairo.

Besides a possible prisoner exchange, Hamas also said that it discussed Palestinian internal matters with Egyptian officials, including tensions with the Fatah movement and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the occupied West Bank.

The Hamas group also discussed the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip after May’s devastating war, during which at least 292 Palestinians were killed, including at least 71 children and 45 women, while 13 died in Israel.

A ‘bold operation’

In May, Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi pledged $500m to help the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip in the wake of the Israeli assault, and in early June Egyptian construction equipment began to enter the enclave.

A source with knowledge of the Hamas talks in Cairo told Al-Jazeera that a prisoner exchange deal with Israel would be “complicated”, as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government is “weak”.

Bennett’s fragile coalition government, formed in June, is composed of parties with little in common as well as ideologically divergent views on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

However, Bennett’s government has been focusing its efforts on releasing Israelis captured by Hamas, according to Hebrew media, and recently attempted to locate the remains of Ron Arad, who has been missing since his plane went down over Lebanon during a 1986 bombing raid and is presumed dead.

On Tuesday, Israel’s external espionage arm, the Mossad, reportedly carried out two operations in Lebanon and Syria in an effort to locate the whereabouts of his remains.

Bennett hailed the mission of the Mossad in a parliamentary speech as a “courageous” and “complex, wide-ranging and bold operation”.

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Israel and Hamas fail to agree prisoner swap during indirect talks in Cairo

Middle East Monitor  /  October 7, 2021

Egyptian mediators have been unable to bring Israeli and Hamas representatives closer during indirect talks regarding a potential prisoner swap, Israeli sources reported today.

According to Arab48.com, the Israeli Hebrew-language newspaper Maariv reported an Israeli source close to the talks as saying that the two sides have failed to reach a breakthrough regarding the prisoner swap. Al-Arabiya TV in Dubai reported on Wednesday that Israel refused the Hamas demand to release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in return for the release of the four Israelis held by the Palestinian resistance in Gaza.

The four Israelis — two of whom are soldiers: Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul — were captured during the 51-day Israeli offensive against the besieged coastal enclave in 2014. More than 2,260 Palestinians were killed, and more than 11,000 others were wounded. 

On Sunday, senior Hamas officials from Gaza and overseas arrived in Cairo for meetings with Egyptian intelligence officials, including intelligence head Abbas Kamel, to discuss the issue of the prisoner swap and the easing of the 15-year Israeli siege of Gaza. Israel’s Ynet News reported a source with knowledge of the talks as saying that the invitation for the Hamas leadership to go to Cairo was probably intended to put the movement under pressure to compromise on the swap, after Israel had informed Egypt it would reject the Hamas demands.

Maariv reiterated that there is no breakthrough on the issues currently on the table in Cairo. It pointed out that the Egyptian mediators “are exerting a lot of effort to consolidate the ceasefire in Gaza.”

The Egyptians are also said to be working towards an easing of the siege and an increase in the amount of goods entering Gaza through the Rafah Crossing. They believe that this will strengthen their regional and international position with the Americans.