Political chief Ismail Haniyeh talks tough as indirect talks through Egypt are at a standstill.
By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News
Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh threatened Sunday to go on a kidnapping binge if Israel does not agree to a prisoner exchange in an interview with Al-Jazeera.
“The Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades are holding four prisoners inside the Gaza Strip, and if Israel is not convinced to reach a deal, Hamas and the al-Qassam battalions will force them” to do so by snatching more victims, Haniyeh said.
Hamas is holding the bodies of two IDF soldiers they killed in 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, Lt. Hadar Goldin and St. Sgt. Oron Shaul. It is also assumed to be keeping in custody two Israeli civilians with mental health issues who jumped the border in 2014 and 2015 respectively on their own – Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed.
The terrorist group has never allowed the Red Cross or any other outside observer to visit the prisoners, however, and it is only an assumption that they are still alive.
In the interview, Haniyeh had said that the terrorist organization is “capable” of bringing the Israelis to the table “by increasing its ‘crop’ [of prisoners] via its many extended arms everywhere.”
The indirect talks Israel has been holding for months with the terrorist organization through Egyptian interlocutors have seemingly ground to a halt, with both sides holding positions unacceptable to the other.
According to an October report in the Qatar-based media outlet, as a pre-requisite to negotiating a new prisoner exchange, Hamas is demanding the freedom of 48 men who were rearrested by Israel after they returned to their terrorist activities following their release in the Shalit deal.
Israel released 1,027 terrorists in 2011 in exchange for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, whom Hamas had captured in a cross-border raid five years earlier. It was the highest price Israel ever paid for a single soldier, and included terrorists who, collectively, were responsible for the death of 569 Israelis, according to a statement made by Hamas’ military leader at the time, Ahmed Jabari.
Hamas is again demanding that Israel release hundreds of prisoners, including those with blood on their hands. Among them are several extremely senior terrorists such as Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who is serving six life sentences in Israeli prison, and the Secretary-General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) Ahmed Saadat, who organized the assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi.
They also want freedom for the six terrorists who briefly escaped a maximum-security prison in northern Israel in September who are members of rival organizations, five from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and one from Fatah.
Al-Jazeera reported that Israel told Egypt that such demands are “exaggerated and unacceptable.” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is on record that he is against releasing those who have blood on their hands, either by planning attacks that have killed Israelis or by being the actual perpetrators.
Israel has instead offered to release older and ill prisoners, females, and those whose sentences are coming to an end in the near future.
Following Haniyeh’s threat, an organization that has staged protests demanding that Israel hinge humanitarian aid to Gaza on the humanitarian return of the bodies and prisoners Hamas holds, demanded that the government change its entire perspective.
“For years, we have argued that Hamas is given everything it asks for and as a result, it is the one deterring us, the State of Israel, from acting and making Hamas understand that holding on to soldiers and civilians is a burden and not an asset,” the Headquarters for the Return of the Boys said in a statement to Israel Hayom Monday.
Israel, it said, should be “halting the transfer of goods, stopping the crossing of workers from Gaza into Israel, putting an end to the security prisoners’ summer camp in the prisons, and stop freeing terrorists.”
“Hamas prisoners should never see the light of day,” it continued, “and we should bring them to the point where they scream to [Hamas chief of Gaza] Yahya Sinwar to release the deceased soldiers and civilians it is holding captive.”