Israel denies agreement made to release Islamic Jihad prisoners

Israel may leverage PIJ chief Bassam al-Saadi for the release of captives held by Hamas.

By David Hellerman, World Israel News

Jerusalem denied claims by Palestinian Islamic Jihad that two prisoners held by Israel would be released as part of a ceasefire.

PIJ spokesperson Daoud Shihab said in a Monday morning interview that Bassam al-Saadi, PIJ’s top leader in Judea and Samaria, and Khalil al-Awawada, a PIJ operative who is on a hunger strike, would both be freed.

“Prisoner Khalil Awawada will be released to a hospital within a few hours, and we are sure of that,” Shihab said. “Regarding the other prisoner, Bassam al-Saadi, we are also sure of his release, and even though we don’t have a time frame, it will happen as soon as possible, and within the next few hours, a UN delegation will visit the Sheik Saadi in prison.”

Saadi was arrested in Jenin by IDF forces last week, sparking PIJ threats of retaliation. As a precaution, Israel shut down roads near the Strip as well as train service between Sderot and Ashkelon. With the terror group showing no signs of backing down from threats of revenge, Israel launched air strikes against PIJ on Friday afternoon.

Saadi has already spent a combined 15 years in Israeli prison on terror-related charges.

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An Egyptian-brokered truce took hold on Sunday night and Israel has been scaling back its security precautions.

Awawada is a security prisoner who has been on a hunger strike for 140 days to protest his administrative detention. Administrative detention is a controversial measure in which an individual can be detained without trial if they pose an imminent security risk, even if he or she has not yet committed a crime.

Israeli Security Minister Omer Barlev told Kan news that there was no deal for Saadi or Awawada.

Saadi will remain in jail “like any other prisoner,” said Barlev.

Of Awawada, the minister said, “This is about him and another security prisoner, an administrative detainee, and like any security prisoner who is under administrative detention … Towards the end of the period, the Shin Bet decides whether to release him or extend his detention. And many times—most times—the Shin Bet extends the detention period.”

Israeli Justice Minister Gideon Saar reiterated Barlev’s points, adding that although Egypt committed itself to seek Saadi’s and Awawada’s release, Israel has made no such commitment.

An Israeli source told the Jerusalem Post, however, that Israel may seek to leverage Saadi for the release of Israeli captives held by Hamas – Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed – and the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.