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Hamas Rejects Israeli Offer to Aid Gaza in Exchange for Freeing Hostages

Hamas confirmed on Wednesday that it has rejected an Israeli offer to help improve the economic situation in the Gaza Strip in exchange for releasing three Israeli hostages and the bodies of two soldiers it is holding, Avi Issacharoff reported in The Times of Israel.

Senior Hamas officials acknowledged that Israel offered via indirect talks to help improve the general situation in Gaza if the terrorist group agreed to release Israeli civilians Avraham Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed, and Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima, as well as the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who died during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. However, the officials said the deal was rejected as it failed to meet Hamas’ minimum demands. A Hamas source told Issacharoff that the group wanted Israel to release 60 Hamas members who were re-arrested after being freed during a prisoner exchange agreement in 2011.

“Only after that can we move forward in the negotiations between the sides,” the source added.

An Israeli official also acknowledged that talks were ongoing.

Issacharoff reported on Monday that Israel told international organizations that it would implement a series of measures to bolster Gaza’s economy in exchange for the living hostages and soldiers’ remains. The Israeli measures, as conveyed to international organizations and nations seeking to aid Gaza, include allowing Gazans to enter Israel for employment and the establishment of an industrial zone near the Gaza-Israel border, which would employ Palestinians from Gaza exclusively.

The two proposals “would provide employment to thousands of Gazans who qualify for the appropriate security clearance,” Issacharoff wrote.

Other initiatives that Israel is pursuing include helping resolve the electricity crisis in Gaza, which has led to popular unrest and subsequent squelching of protests, as well as providing more potable water and establishing a free trade zone under Egyptian auspices between the strip and the northern Sinai.

Palestinian affairs correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh pointed out last year that Hamas has prioritized building up its terror infrastructure over rebuilding Gazan homes, writing that “the last thing Hamas cares about is the welfare of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.”

Hamas spends some $40 million of its $100 million military budget on tunnel construction, according to Israeli and Palestinian sources. An Israeli official estimated in July that Hamas digs some six miles of tunnels every month.

Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser, formerly the head of the research division of Israeli military intelligence and later the director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, told reporters last May that the tunnels were a sign that Hamas is preparing for another war against Israel. “They definitely invest a lot in making the necessary preparations so that in the next round, when they decide to start it, they will be able to inflict the heaviest damage on Israel, including through those tunnels,” he said.

The IDF discovered and destroyed at least 34 tunnels during Operation Protective Edge. Hamas killed several Israeli soldiers through its use of cross-border tunnels, including five soldiers in Israeli territory near Kibbutz Nahal Oz. The IDF explained at the time that Hamas intended to use the tunnels “to carry out attacks such as abductions of Israeli civilians and soldiers alike; infiltrations into Israeli communities, mass murders and hostage-taking scenarios.”

Israel began constructing a $530 million underground barrier along its border with Gaza in September to prevent more Hamas tunnels from breaching Israeli territory. IDF Chief of Staff Gen. Gadi Eisenkot described the barrier as “the largest project” ever undertaken in Israel’s military history.

[Photo: Hadas Parush / Flash90 ]