Israel conducting secret talks to trade senior terrorists for hostages – report

A Saudi news site says Qatar and Israel are discussing an exchange that includes men and IDF officers for 300 security prisoners, including Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Secret negotiations are taking place in Europe between Qatar and Israeli officials for the release of more hostages held by Hamas in exchange for hundreds of security prisoners, including senior terrorists, the Saudi Elaph website reported Monday.

The Gazan group would allegedly free Israeli women and children it did not release in the seven tranches in November, when 86 were freed in exchange for some 250  terrorists – all of them women or teens – and for truckloads of humanitarian aid.

This time, Israeli men, including three captured senior IDF officers would be part of the deal, the report said. In return, Israel would give up some 300 security prisoners, as well as ten high-profile convicts, such as arch-terrorist Marwan Barghouti.

Barghouti, who headed Fatah’s Tanzim military offshoot during the Second Intifada, has been serving five life sentences since 2002 for his role in planning and directing numerous terror attacks, including those that killed five Israelis.

Hamas had demanded that Israel release him as part of the Gilad Shalit deal in 2011, even though he was a leader of their rival, Fatah, which is the major movement behind the Palestinian Authority, but the government refused.

Barghouti’s name has been bandied about for years as a possible candidate to replace the elderly PA President Mahmoud Abbas, as he is far more popular than Abbas, who is seen as corrupt and ineffectual by the Palestinian street.

Channel 12 cited an unnamed Israeli official in a Monday report who said that Mossad head David Barnea and Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, the IDF man in charge of hostage negotiations, have been “directed to hear what the intermediaries are proposing,” but not to make any offers of their own.

Elaph’s source told the news site that there are Shabak officials and National Security Council members also involved in the talks, which are taking place in various European capitals. Former Mossad agents who have good relations with the Qataris through their past work and current business ties were brought into the group to help as well, it said.

After Hamas broke the November deal, stopping the set of hostages-for-prisoners exchanges, both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that the best way to get Hamas back to the negotiating table was to return to a full military campaign that would compel the terrorists to release captives in return for another temporary truce and humanitarian aid.

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The IDF has been steadily moving forward in Gaza, tightening the noose around Hamas forces, killing its military commanders and destroying its infrastructure, weaponry and tunnels.

“I believe that if we increase the military pressure, there will be offers for more hostage deals, and if there are offers, we will consider them,” Gallant said Monday.