Hamas further hints at prisoner swap with Israel

Hamas further hints at prisoner swap with Israel
A senior Hamas commander has suggested the movement is in possession of Israeli soldiers' bodies seized during the last war in Gaza and would swap them for Palestinian prisoners.
3 min read
01 February, 2016
Hamas recently released footage of Gilad Shalit in captivity [twitter]

The Hamas movement on Sunday again raised the prospect of exchanging an Israeli soldier declared dead in the territory's 2014 war in return for Palestinian prisoners.

Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas's military arm, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said that "the resistance has... cards in its hands that will force the enemy to release you", referring to prisoners in Israeli jail.

Israeli soldiers, dead or alive, have in the past proven to be valuable bargaining chips.

The bodies of two soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, are believed to be held by Hamas, which has not clarified their fate.

There were some reports that discussions of a prisoner exchange were included in the Hamas-Israel truce talks in August that ultimately came to a halt.

Hamas have recently continually referenced the Shalit deal where Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was exchanged by Hamas in return for more than 1000 Palestinian prisoners. 

"The fulfillment of the Shalit deal was a milestone in the history of the resistance, as it was able to break the the conditions set by the occupation... and led to the release of hundreds of prisoners," Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas leader previously told The New Arab

The Hamas leader said that "the former deal will form the gateway to a series of exchanges for the liberation of prisoners, and emptying Israeli jails".

Last month the movement released footage of Gilad Shalit in captivity in what one analyst said was a form of "psychological warfare" on Israelis, attempting to pressure the government into a prisoner swap.

The tunnels are a strategic weapon against Israel
—Ismail Haniya

Tunnel warfare

On Friday, the movement's Gaza chief Ismail Haniya said Qassam Brigades were preparing "for any future clashes with the Zionist enemy", including by building tunnels on the border with Israel.

He said a collapsed tunnel that killed seven militants in Gaza last week was like the one used to capture Shaul and that led to the release of Palestinian prisoners in return for Shalit.

The tunnels were "strategic weapons" against Israel, Haniya said, adding that Hamas fighters were also training and acquiring "all the means to fight and resist".

Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Haya drove the point home on Sunday.

"The tunnel in which our seven martyrs died is the same one that was used by Qassam to capture the soldier Oron Shaul," he said.

Israel has accused Hamas of rebuilding tunnels destroyed during the 2014 war with the aim of launching fresh attacks against it.

The 50-day war in July-August 2014 killed 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 73 people on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers, and it destroyed or damaged thousands of homes in the besieged Gaza Strip.

The tunnels have been used in the past to store weapons or stage attacks.

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned Hamas against any attempt to attack his country.

"We are systematically preparing for all threats - including from Hamas," he said.

"If we're attacked through tunnels from the Gaza Strip, we'll act very forcefully against Hamas, with far much greater force" than two years ago.

Hamas ramps up its rhetoric in reference to past political and military successes, as the movement has been suffering from a lack of popularity in Gaza as the siege worsens with the continual closure of Rafah crossing. 

A prominant source of the group's popularity - their reputation for resisting Israel - has also come under question by young Gazans who have not seen life improve following the devastating 2014 war, after which an uneasy truce has prevailed.

Agencies contributed to this report.