Political Leader of the ruling Islamist Hamas party in Gaza, Ismail Haniyya, told the Alaraby Arabic TV channel, on Friday, that his party has four Israeli soldiers in captivity, and that the party is ready to indirectly negotiate over a possible prisoner swap deal with Israel.

The leader of Hamas further noted that some external parties have recently contacted the party over prospects of such a prisoner swap deal, saying that such contacts could bring about a breakthrough.

“Freeing Palestinian prisoners, inside Israeli jails, is a priority, not only for Hamas but also for the entire Palestinian people and all other free nations. We look forward to completing a deal on their release”, Haniyya said during a televised interview with the London-based Alaraby TV.

He maintained that mediated negotiations with the Israeli occupation could lead to such a swap deal, expressing his party’s readiness to embark on those negotiations immediately.

The Hamas political chief also stated that his party has always been optimistic towards ‘winning the battle with the Israeli occupation’, based on previous rounds with Israel, mainly the 2012’s prisoner swap deal, in which Israel released around 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

The 2012 prisoner swap deal led to the release of the then-captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who remained hostage for six consecutive years, after he was captured in a Hamas-led cross-border attack, in south of the coastal enclave.

Noteworthy, Hamas’s local leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, has recently offered Israel a prisoner swap deal, within what Sinwar called a ‘Humanitarian offer’, in which Hamas is ready to give out information about missing Israelis, since the end of Israel’s devastating large-scale attack on Gaza in 2014.

Sinwar demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, mainly the elderly, women, children and those with chronic diseases.

The offer has been reported amidst the spreading Coronavirus, across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

A small number of Palestinian prisoners, inside Israeli jails, have reportedly caught the Coronavirus, which is said to most likely affect those with chronic diseases, weak immune system, and the elderly.

In response to Hamas’ offer for a prisoner swap deal, conflicting media reports suggest that Israel has considered the offer but no concrete response has been reported as of yet.

Haniyya’s remarks come in the context of widespread calls by many Palestinian, Arab and international bodies for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, fearing the spread of the Coronavirus among them.

On Friday, which coincided with Palestinian Prisoners Day, the western-backed Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah party that is rival to the Islamist Hamas, was quoted as saying “No final peace deal with Israel can be reached, unless Israel empties its prisons of around 5,000 Palestinian prisoners”.

Image: Jack Guez; Getty Images