Any Israeli deal with Hamas depends on return of captives, says Gantz

The defense minister was speaking at a memorial ceremony for those who fell in Operation Protective Edge.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Sunday that no overall arrangement would be made with Hamas until they return two IDF bodies and two live citizens to Israel.

Speaking at the state ceremony at Mount Herzl military cemetery on the eighth anniversary of the IDF’s Operation Protective Edge against the terrorist organization, he said, “We are continuing to work on behalf of those who remain there in Gaza.”

“Without their [return], there cannot be a full arrangement in the Gaza Strip beyond humanitarian assistance,” he stated. “The return of our sons is a condition for an arrangement and development.”

Hamas has consistently refused to release the remains of Lt. Hadar Goldin and St. Sgt. Oron Shaul, which the terrorists spirited away after the IDF soldiers fell in action during the 50-day conflict.

Hamas has also been holding two mentally ill citizens, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who had entered the coastal enclave on their own in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Last month, for the first time, Hamas showed that at least one of them was alive when the group cynically publicized a video of al-Sayed lying down with an oxygen mask over his face, and said that his condition was weakening.

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Israel reportedly refused an offer from Hamas, made through Egyptian negotiators, to exchange al-Sayed for sick Palestinian prisoners.

The terror organization has previously demanded, among other things, that in exchange for the bodies and captives, Israel should release over a thousand imprisoned Palestinian terrorists and permit massive amounts of construction material into the Strip.

Gantz said that Israel is “constantly continuing to strengthen the moderate elements” among the Palestinians while weakening Hamas “politically, economically and militarily, some ways which are out in the open and some which are hidden.”

He also called for Gazans to realize that their leadership is failing them.

“We have nothing against the people of Gaza, on the contrary,” he said. “We want their well-being and prosperity. It is Hamas that works against them, against their interests. It is Hamas that in blood-freezing cynicism trades in blood, and holds innocent civilians captive, among them those dealing with mental disabilities.”

Hadar Goldin’s sister, Ayelet, who attended the ceremony, was not happy with Gantz’s words.

“Be brave, almost all of you have turned your backs,” she shouted afterwards towards Gantz and Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who also spoke at the event. “Be the leadership we are praying for. My parents are standing outside because their son is not here. I swear to you – return Hadar and Oron before it is too late. There is an opportunity today, do not turn your back on them.”

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“I had to stand up to our leaders so that they would have the courage to bring the soldiers home,” she told Ynet.

“We are here eight years after Benny Gantz, the chief of staff during Protective Edge, left Oron and Hadar on the battlefield – and he does nothing to bring them back except to speak at ceremonies and say that by next year it will be done,” her father, Simcha, said.

“Gantz allows 11,000 workers from Gaza to enter every day and doesn’t demand the release of the boys,” he added.

In his own speech, Lapid had said that “causing the civilian population in Gaza to understand that it’s possible to have a different kind of life” was one of two principles that would prevent the necessity for yet another military operation over the border.

“To that end, we have we have expanded the Israeli work permits for Gaza residents, and we continue to promote the ‘Economy for Security’ plan,” he said.