Hamas’ top leader in the Gaza Strip has expressed optimism about reaching a prisoner exchange with Israel while Egyptian mediators seek to hammer out a long-term ceasefire following an 11-day war in the Gaza Strip earlier this month.
Yahya Sinwar spoke after meeting with Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel, who visited Gaza a day after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a trip aimed at shoring up an informal ceasefire brokered by Egypt.
Sinwar said “there is a real chance to make progress” in indirect negotiations that could involve the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and the return of two Israeli citizens and the remains of two Israeli soldiers held by Hamas since the previous war in 2014.
Egypt often serves as a mediator between Israel and Hamas and was a key player in negotiating the ceasefire that ended the fighting.
Kamel, who has not given public statements, is the highest-ranking Arab official to visit Gaza since 2018.
The war, which was halted by a ceasefire on May 21, was triggered by weeks of protests and clashes in Jerusalem over Israel’s policing of a flashpoint holy site and efforts by settler groups to evict Palestinian families in the nearby Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.
The fighting erupted on May 10 when Hamas launched a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem.
It fired more than 4000 rockets toward Israeli cities during the fighting while Israeli warplanes struck about 1000 targets in Gaza.
More than 250 people were killed, the vast majority of them Palestinians living in Hamas-ruled Gaza, and parts of the territory suffered heavy damage.
“Today, by the grace of Allah, after this victory of May 2021, our Palestinian cause is making tangible and clear progress,” Sinwar said.
Speaking to foreign reporters on Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that any reconstruction of Gaza would depend on progress in the issue of returning captive Israelis held by Hamas.
“We are willing to help with fixing the area, rebuilding it, construction, etc. But it’s conditioned with the return of our boys back home, the abducted soldiers,” he said.
Gantz also said the rules have changed in Israel’s dealings with Hamas and vowed a much harsher response to any violations of the new ceasefire.
“We will brutally retaliate but we will do it in our own time and will not accept the previous reality to show itself again,” he said.