Israeli officials asserted Thursday that no negotiations were underway for the release of Avraham Mengitsu, who Israel claims is being held captive by Hamas, despite denials from the terror organization.
But if negotiations were to take place about that or any other issue, said top Hamas terrorist Khaled Mashaal, the group would demand that Israel free 71 terrorists arrested in recent months after being released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange in 2011.
Of the 1,027 terrorists released to gain Shalit's freedom after five years in a Hamas hideaway, 477 were Hamas members.
Despite a pledge not to engage in terrorism as a condition of their release, many returned almost immediately to terror activities, and 71 have been arrested so far – the latest just Wednesday night, when police nabbed a resident of of Abu Dis suspected of involvement in throwing firebombs and other explosives at Israeli security forces.
Hamas sees the re-arrest of these terrorists as a “violation” of Israel's obligations in the Shalit deal.
Speaking at a press conference in Qatar, Haaretz reported Thursday, Mashaal said Israel had in recent weeks reached out to Hamas via a European interlocutor for the release of the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, both killed in Operation Protective Edge last summer.
Mashaal said Hamas would not comment on whether or not it was in possession of the soldiers' bodies. Meanwhile, Hamas sources said Thursday that the group not holding Mengitsu, who was released after Hamas ascertained he was not a soldier.
In any event, Mashaal said at the press conference, Hamas would not discuss any issues with Israel until the 71 terrorists are released unconditionally.
A report in a Jordanian newspaper said that Israel and Hamas were holding direct talks on releasing the missing soldiers' bodies, but Israeli officials have not commented on that report.
In May, Haaretz noted, a Lebanese television station reported that Hamas had detained an Israeli of Ethiopian descent – but said that he was a scuba diver who had apparently entered the waters off Gaza.
Other reports said that the abductee was in his mid-20s, and that the family was aware of the situation, but that no public pressure had been yet brought to bear, as occurred in the Shalit case.