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Hamas: ‘We are evaluating the occupation’s seriousness about prisoner swap, terms and names already set’

Mahmoud Al-Zahar, a member of the Hamas leadership in Gaza [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]
Mahmoud Al-Zahar, a member of the Hamas leadership in Gaza on 15 November 2016 [Mohammed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

Hamas political bureau member Mahmoud Al-Zahar confirmed that the movement’s leadership is studying the seriousness of the Israeli occupation authorities’ proposal to conclude a new prisoner exchange deal, pointing out that Hamas has set the conditions and names, in addition to those who should be released first, specifically the sick and the elderly.

Al-Zahar revealed in an interview with local newspaper Falastin: “Basically, we are seeking to free the prisoners in any possible way, and this is a principle that we have adopted for a long time. The most famous instance of this demarche was demonstrated by the Wafa Al-Ahrar exchange deal that took place in 2011.”

He added that the Palestinian detainees in the occupation prisons are in a very dangerous situation, which urges Hamas to seize all available opportunities to release them.

Al-Zahar stressed the necessity to work to free the prisoners, noting that Hamas wants a balanced exchange deal that achieves its ultimate goal to release the captured and to prevent the occupation from achieving gains at the expense of the Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas: No mediator regarding prisoner swap proposal with Israel

He continued: “Now the occupation can find mediators more than before. However, we do not want this file to be used as a bargaining chip by any of the Israeli parties in the course of the formation of the new government at the expense of others, nor manipulated by the occupation Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an attempt to rise in popularity at the expense of the prisoners.”

Al-Zahar asserted that Hamas is requiring a certain degree of urgency in handling the issue in order to achieve the principle goal of releasing the prisoners, adding: “We aspire for having our prisoners back home, and we are willing to pay the required cost for their return by releasing the Israeli detainees and the soldiers’ corpses, or other things at our disposition (at the disposition of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades).”

He continued: “We are waiting for the occupation to take positive steps, and once we make sure that good intentions are being established on the ground, we will announce it.”

Al-Zahar indicated: “It is logical to study the occupation’s proposal, and whether the Israeli side is serious enough to convince us to engage with this file. On the other hand, we need to examine the general circumstances and the degree of its suitability, and our terms if we decided to proceed with the deal, taking into account the detainees with the utmost priority, including the sick and the elderly, as well as the names and the means at our disposal to conclude the exchange deal.”

READ: Palestinian arrested in Gaza for ‘normalising relations with Israel’

He stressed the importance of achieving the goal of releasing the detainees and not the mechanisms to reach such a goal, which can change at any time, stating that Hamas wants to accomplish the exchange deal and save the prisoners from the dire conditions they are enduring. “If the occupation commits to concluding the agreement, then we will enter into serious negotiations on all the details of the deal.” Al-Zahar confirmed.

Regarding the Hamas’ “partial flexibility” vis-à-vis the swap deal, Al-Zahar explained that there are core principles that cannot be overlooked. However, there are other mechanisms according to which the movement can show flexibility, if the Israelis manage to show a reciprocal approach.

He continued: “We have no objection to flexibility in employing the tools and methods to achieve the deal. Nonetheless, principles and foundations are a red line.”

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