Hamas will not release four Israeli soldiers captured in the Gaza Strip without a deal to release Palestinian political prisoners held by Israel, announced the movement's politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh.
Speaking at the 12th Pioneers of Jerusalem Conference in Istanbul, Haniyeh reaffirmed that the issue of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails is a top priority for the movement.
Haniyeh's statement confirms that Hamas is proceeding with a separate exchange deal.
Hamas informed Egypt, which is mediating the talks, that it is ready for an exchange deal, whether comprehensive or over two stages. Hamas has requested the release of more than 100 prisoners.
The movement proposed a two-stage deal. The first includes the release of two Israeli civilian prisoners, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, and information about soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners.
The second stage negotiates the release of 800 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Israeli soldiers. Tel Aviv did not respond to that.
There are four Israelis held by Hamas in Gaza, including Shaul and Goldin, who were captured by the movement in the war that broke out in the summer of 2014. Israel believes they are dead. However, Hamas does not provide any information about their fate.
Hamas is also detaining Mengistu, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent, and Sayyid, of Arab descent. Both crossed Gaza borders at two different times after the war.
There are about 4,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons.
Israel refuses to release prisoners with "blood on their hands," a top priority for Hamas, known as the VIP list.
Israeli sources said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett fears his coalition will collapse if he takes a step that includes the release of senior prisoners.