Middle East

Hamas-Israel prisoner swap deal nears end

Israeli security forces aim towards Palestinian protesters during clashes following a demonstration in the West Bank town of Bethlehem to show their support for Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails after hundreds of detainees launched a hunger strike on April 17, 2017. AFP / AHMAD GHARABLI

BEIRUT: An Egyptian-led mediation effort between Hamas and Israel for the release of a large number of Palestinian detainees was nearing a conclusion, the brother of one prominent detainee said Tuesday. “I estimate the deal to go through before the end of the year,” Muqbel Barghouti told The Daily Star.

Prominent political leader Marwan Barghouti and the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine Ahmad Saadat are slated to be included in the agreement, Muqbel Barghouti said. “Hamas officials gave promises that Marwan and Saadat will be part of the deal.”

Israel sentenced Saadat to 30 years’ prison in 2008 for leading an “illegal terrorist organization” and for his alleged directive to assassinate then-Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001.

Barghouti, a highly popular figure among Palestinians, is serving five life sentences for his role in the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

The talks are taking place under Egyptian leadership; however, other interlocutors are thought to be involved including Russia.

Communications between Cairo and Tel Aviv started after Hamas handed over the case to the Egyptians several months ago.

Previous reports said that the deal would see Hamas return the remains of Israeli soldiers Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oron Shaul and three living Israeli citizens who have crossed into Gaza in recent years.

While Israel believes that Goldin and Shaul were killed during the Israeli offensive on Gaza in 2014, Hamas has been evasive about the fate of the two soldiers.

Barghouti and Saadat are likely to pose a point of contention in the negotiations due to their high profiles. However, Muqbel Barghouti said that if either Goldin or Shaul proved to be alive then “Israel would have no choice but to bow to Hamas’ demands.”

He added that Israel would most likely demand the deportation of both Palestinian leaders either to Gaza or abroad.

“There is a state of extreme secrecy over this deal,” he added.

In April, Marwan Barghouti led 1,500 Palestinian detainees on a hunger strike against their treatment and conditions in Israeli prisons. The hunger strike ended with a deal that acquiesced to a large number of the detainees’ demands.

Muqbel Barghouti also said Hamas would only release information about whether any of its Israeli prisoners were alive or dead when Israel releases 56 Palestinian detainees who were initially part of a previous exchange deal in 2011, known as the Gilad Shalit deal, but were rearrested in 2014 after the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli youths in the occupied West Bank.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 25, 2017, on page 9.

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