Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar said on Monday that Hamas is willing to hold indirect negotiations on the issue of Israeli prisoners held in Gaza, provided that prisoners jailed after being released in the the Shalit deal were released once more.
"We are ready to negotiate immediately through a mediator to discuss a prisoner exchange deal if Israel releases the prisoners of the Shalit deal that it has imprisoned again," Sinwar said, referring to the bodies of fallen soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul as well as the three Israeli citizens held by them as "bargaining chips."
"(It is) our commitment and our promise to all the prisoners (held by Israel) that we will work for their release in respectful transactions," he added.
Sinwar noted that the condition for the negotiations is the release of the prisoners who were arrested again in Operation Brother's Keeper in 2014, initiated in search of three teenagers kidnapped by Hamas' armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. As part of the operation, in the following 11 days Israel arrested around 350 Palestinians, including nearly all of Hamas' West Bank leaders. Five Palestinians were killed during the military operation.
Sinwar then spoke about the resignation of Lior Lotan, the Prime Minister's Coordinator for the POWs and MIAs.
"The person in charge of POWs and MIAs in the Netanyahu administration resigned because he holds a title without any power or authority and acts under the shadow of a cowardly government," he said.
"Netanyahu is selling illusions to the families of Israeli soldiers who are being held captive," Sinwar claimed. "From the very beginning, we set the condition that negotiations should not begin before the release of 54 prisoners recaptured after being released in the Shalit deal. We will not pay the same price twice.
"The Shalit deal was delayed for two years because the mediators offered us things that did not reach the threshold of (Hamas') demands."
Sinwar, who began his term as Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip in February, was one of the prisoners released in the Shalit deal.
When released from prison in 2011, Sinwar lamented the fact that other prisoners still remained in Israeli jails. “We feel that we left our hearts behind us, we left many prisoners behind. This is a great victory for our people and our resistance.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned on Sunday that Israel "must not repeat the mistakes made with the Shalit deal" amid criticism of the resignation of POWs and MIAs coordinator Col. (res.) Lior Lotan.
Among the 1,027 terrorists released in the 2011 deal that saw captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit returned to Israel alive were Mahmoud Qawasmeh, "who was released to the strip and funded the abduction of the three Israeli teens," and Yahya Sinwar, "who became the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It is the same Sinwar who is now setting strict demands that don't allow making any progress towards any sort of deal," Lieberman said.
The defense minister went on to say that "202 of the released prisoners in the Shalit deal have been arrested again since then for their involvement in terrorism, 111 of whom are still in Israeli prison, while seven Israelis were murdered because of direct or indirect involvement of prisoners released in that deal."
Leah and Simcha Goldin—the parents of fallen IDF soldier Lt. Hadar Goldin—angrily responded on Sunday afternoon to Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman's statement from earlier in the day, who urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to not immediately appoint a new head negotiator to bring Israelis captured by Hamas, both those alive and dead.
Speaking at a press conference set up in their family home in Kfar Saba on Sunday, the Goldins accused Lieberman of not putting pressure on Hamas to return Goldin and Oron's bodies, adding that "the State of Israel has a weak and cowardly defense minister."
"A defense minister that says the kind of things he said today, has no moral right to make decisions, to command an army or to lead a battle," said Simcha.