Hamas says ready for ‘immediate’ prisoner swap with Israel

Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, has stated that the group is ready for an “immediate” prisoner exchange with Israel.

“We are ready to conduct an immediate prisoner exchange deal that includes the release of all Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails in exchange for all prisoners held by the Palestinian resistance,” Sinwar said in a statement.

Sinwar has also ordered the preparation of lists of all Palestinians in Israeli jails.

Qatar has been conducting behind-the-scenes diplomacy for more than three weeks, speaking to Hamas officials and Israel to promote peace and secure the release of hostages. Its mediation last week led to the release of two American hostages, a mother and daughter, and two elderly Israeli women.

There are 19 prisons within Israel and one inside the occupied West Bank that hold thousands of Palestinian prisoners.

Al-Qassam Brigades spokesman Abu Obaida had earlier claimed Israeli air raids and shelling have killed 50 captives.

The “price” of returning all the captives in Gaza is the release of all Palestinian detainees held in Israeli prisons – estimated at about 6,600 people.

“If the enemy wants to resolve this issue, we are ready,” he continued, adding, “If the enemy wants to close this file of detainees in one go, we are ready for it. If it wants to do it step-by-step, we are ready for that, too.”

Some 229 hostages are being held in the Gaza Strip, according to the Israeli army.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his government will do everything possible to bring the captives held by Hamas home.

The idea of a swap deal of hostages for Palestinian prisoners has been discussed within the war cabinet but there was no decision on the move, he added.

Netanyahu did not commit to any exchange deal, but told the families Israeli authorities would “exhaust every option to bring them [the hostages] home”.

Families of hostages held in Gaza say they told Netanyahu they would only accept an “everyone in return for everyone” deal, which would secure the immediate release of all hostages. The families held a news conference shortly after meeting Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on Saturday.

Many families of captives also protested in Tel Aviv demanding the return of their loved ones being held in Gaza. People hold up placards with the words “Bring them home now” and pictures of their missing loved ones.

But, Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant has stated the more pressure put on Hamas, the greater chance of returning hostages being held.

The statement appears meant to respond to criticism that Israeli ground operations in Gaza would scuttle negotiations over captive releases.

Several Western countries and families of those held have reportedly pressured Israel to delay a ground incursion into Gaza in the hope more can be freed.

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