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Are Israel and Hamas edging toward prisoner swap?

Long-stalled negotiations on a prisoner exchange between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas could be given fresh impetus by the coronavirus pandemic and the formation of a new Israeli government, analysts say. 

A deal, which would be the first in almost a decade, is not yet close but significant steps have been taken in recent weeks, said a Hamas official speaking on condition of anonymity.

Israel has not confirmed it is holding talks with Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since 2007, but recent media reports suggest the two sides are nearing an agreement. 

Germany and Russia are reportedly involved in the talks as is traditional mediator Egypt.

Since Israel’s 2014 invasion of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, the Islamist group has held the bodies of Israeli soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, although Hamas has never confirmed their deaths. 

Hamas is also believed to be holding two Israeli citizens who entered Gaza alone and whose families say they have mental health issues.

Israel is meanwhile holding more than 5,000 Palestinians in its jails.

In the most recent prisoners swap, in 2001, Hamas and the Jewish state brokered a deal that saw more than 1,000 Palestinians released in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured five years earlier.

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