Defense Minister: No breakthrough with Hamas on missing Israelis

Israel refutes reported progress with Hamas regarding five Israelis who disappeared in Gaza, while leaders express opposition to a terrorist-information swap.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Sunday there is no substance to reports that Israel and Hamas were close to a preliminary deal on the way to a prisoner exchange.

“There are no contacts with Hamas; there is an ongoing effort to achieve the release of our soldiers and civilians held in captivity by Hamas. There is no breakthrough,” Liberman told the Galei Yisrael radio station.

“We do not negotiate with terrorist organizations, there are various parties that are negotiating with them, such as Egypt and others, but we have no intention of ever holding direct negotiations with the murderers of Hamas,” Liberman added.

Liberman’s comments followed reports in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar claiming that the first stage of a deal would be concluded within the next three months.

According to Al-Akhbar, which is known for its ties to the Lebanese Shi’ite terror group Hezbollah, Hamas would send a video with information about the fate of missing soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, both of whom are believed to have been killed in action during the 2014 Gaza War, and three Israeli citizens, believed to be in the group’s captivity after crossing into the Strip of their own accord – Abera Mengistu, Jumaa Abu Ghanima and Hisham al-Sayed.

Israel, according to Al-Akhbar, would have to “pay” for the information with the release of 25 female Palestinian prisoners.

A second stage of the deal, would lead to the re-release of 53 prisoners originally released in the 2011 prisoner swap for Gilad Shalit and then rearrested for violating the terms of their release by returning to terrorism.

Hamas is also demanding the release of Ahmed Sa’adat, the Secretary General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), who is serving a 30-year sentence for his part in the assassination of tourism minister Rehavam Ze’evi in 2001, and of Fatah’s Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences for his role in a series of terror attacks committed during the Second Intifada.

Ministers: No Terrorist-Information Swap

Gershon Baskin, a peace activist who was involved in negotiations prior to the Shalit deal, said on Facebook that “to the best of my knowledge, there is no new Hamas deal in sight, not even close.”

Regardless of the veracity of the report, government ministers spoke out Sunday morning against a deal that would see the release of prisoners in return for information on dead bodies.

“You cannot release live terrorists for the bodies of our soldiers,” said Minister of Education Naftali Bennett. “We must increase the pressure and hurt Hamas so holding the bodies is no longer worth it. Kidnapping must be made a burden, not an asset.”

Tzachi Hanegbi, Minister in charge of National Security and Foreign Affairs, added that “terrorists should not be released, not for information, not for bodies and not for infiltrators who went into Gaza at their own volition. The Israeli interest is to pressure Hamas prisoners so that they leverage their leadership to return what they are required to return according to international conventions. We need to apply pressure, not to be pressured.”

By: Ilan Evyatar/TPS