Israel debunks Norway’s role in return of soldiers’ bodies from Hamas

Israel rejected reports by a Hamas-affiliated newspaper in Lebanon that Norway had sent an emissary to Gaza last month to negotiate a deal.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

An unnamed senior Israeli official flatly denied Monday night that Norway is involved in indirect negotiations with Hamas to return the bodies of two Israeli soldiers and two live civilians from the Gaza Strip.

The Lebanese al-Akhbar daily had claimed Monday that a Norwegian envoy had gone to the Gaza Strip in September to talk about the return of Hadar Goldin and Oren Shaul’s remains, which the terror organization has been holding since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, two mentally unstable Israeli young men who had crossed over into Gaza in 2014 and 2015 respectively, would also be part of the alleged prisoner exchange. The report said that the diplomat had even gotten “a positive response” from Hamas.

However, senior Hamas officials also denied the report, according to Haaretz, saying that the issue is mainly being handled by the Egyptians and Germans, as well as Nikolai Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

Already back in July, the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper reported that Germany had been trying for three years to mediate between Israel and Hamas for a prisoner exchange deal, but the talks have gone nowhere.

According to al-Akhbar, Hamas has stuck to its long-held position that a precondition to even beginning negotiations would be the Israeli release of all the prisoners who had been rearrested for terrorism following their release in the 2011 Gilad Shalit deal.

Hamas has other conditions as well, which Israel has refused to countenance.

The Goldin and Shaul families have been vociferous and public in their criticism of the prime minister and the government for not putting enough pressure on Hamas to get their sons’ bodies back. The Goldins have even turned to the Supreme Court to try to force the government to adhere to a cabinet decision made in April that conditions the return of Hamas terrorists’ bodies for burial on the return of their own sons.