Itongadol.- A senior Hamas official said Thursday that the organization would be willing to carry out another prisoner swap with Israel only after Hamas prisoners who were released in the Gilad Schalit deal and later rearrested are freed by Israel.
The comments by Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a senior Hamas official in the West Bank, were made to Israel Radio on the day that Israeli authorities cleared for publication that two Israelis had disappeared in Gaza and are now missing.
Israel contends that one of the missing men, 26-year-old Avera Mengistu from Ashkelon, was taken into Hamas captivity after he climbed the border fence of his own volition to enter Gaza. The second man, a Beduin Israeli citizen from the South, is also believed to be in Gaza, although no further information on his situation or identity has been released.
Hamas has claimed that it initially captured Mengistu, but later released him when it realized he was not a soldier. Yousef, however, neither confirmed nor denied that the organization holds either of the missing Israelis. He said that Hamas would not confirm who it holds or doesn\’t hold until the Schalit prisoners are re-released.
"If Israel makes a gesture of goodwill and releases those arrested again after they were released in the Schalit deal, Hamas would also make a gesture of goodwill," and would reveal details on possible prisoners it holds captive, Yousef said.
It is not clear whether Yousef was referencing prisoners who are dead or alive. Efforts are underway to secure the release of the bodies of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, killed last year in Operation Protective Edge, but Hamas is refusing to discuss this and even putting conditions on the very existence of talks on this issue.
Yousef also conveyed in the interview that there were no preferences by Hamas as to who would be a potential mediator in the hypothetical negotiations.
"You choose the mediators – European or Egypt – and tell them that you are ready to talk about a new deal and we will be ready," Yousef said, adding "but only after we close the Schalit case. Until then we will not talk about anything."
In October 2011, Gilad Schalit was released from Hamas captivity after spending five-years as the terrorist organization\’s prisoner. In exchange for Schalit\’s release, 1027 prisoners were released back to Gaza and the West Bank.