‘Opportunity not to be missed’ – Deal with Hamas on the horizon?

Israeli officials reportedly want to leverage fresh ceasefire for potential prisoner exchange with Hamas.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

As the fresh ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) holds for now, several Israeli officials have suggested that the end to this round of fighting could be leveraged by both the Jewish state and Gaza-based terror groups for various concessions.

“We are absolutely aware that there is an opportunity in the aftermath that we don’t want to miss,” a senior Israeli government official speaking anonymously told the Times of Israel.

“The signals from Hamas in recent weeks have been received,” he added. “We want to take things forward, and not only make do with a ceasefire with PIJ.”

Hamas, the Islamic terror group that rules the coastal enclave, is interested in economic incentives and eased import restrictions. Rebuilding in the Strip has been slow since last year’s Guardian of the Walls clash.

In exchange, Israel could lobby for the return of two live captives, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who have been held in Gaza for several years, along with the bodies of two slain IDF soldiers.

Another official told TOI that Israel would slowly restore its recently suspended policies towards Gaza, such as additional work permits for laborers, in a way that “sends a message about the future.”

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Notably, an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that was slated to begin at 8 p.m. was delayed until 11:30 pm, as PIJ demanded that Israel release its senior commander in Jenin, Bassem al-Saadi, who was arrested last week.

Some reports have indicated that the release of hunger-striking PIJ member Khalil al-Awawda, who is currently detained by the Shin Bet, was also a top priority for the terror group.

In a statement to Kan News, Internal Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev denied that Israel had agreed to release the two men in exchange for a ceasefire. “Israel did not agree to anything, we responded negatively to the demands,” he said.

“Al-Saadi is like any other prisoner, and [al-Awawda], like any other administrative detainee. Just before the end of the detention period, the Shin Bet will assess the situation and decide whether to release him. Most of the times the Shin Bet extends [the arrest].”