Netanyahu vows to return missing Israelis, fallen IDF soldiers to Israel


JERUSALEM--Israeli Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz reiterated Monday on Army Radio that Israel is against returning the bodies of terrorists recovered at the site of last weeks tunnel demolition unless the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers are returned to Israel.

In a statement, Hamas said Monday that it was "not impressed" by the Israeli government's announcement Sunday that it was holding the bodies of the five terrorists, and that they would not be released unless Hamas supplied information about the fates of Goldin and Shaul.

The Islamist group is also holding the bodies of two Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were killed during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.

In addition, Hamas is believed to be holding three Israeli civilians who scaled a border fence and entered Gaza.

A senior Israeli army official said last week that there would be no efforts made to return the bodies of terrorists recovered from the tunnel until there is progress in talks to return at least four Israeli captives - including two deceased soldiers - held by Hamas, which runs the blockaded Strip.

In January 2017, the cabinet made a decision to try to move forward with measures created to get Hamas to return the bodies as well as to return a couple of Israeli civilians captured by Hamas.

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Islamic Jihad spokesman in Gaza, Dawoud Shehab, said "We are committed to regaining the bodies of our comrades and we will find a way to compel the enemy to do this".

Hamas forces said they would not negotiate for the bodies, saying Israel "will not be able to bargain over our fighters".

Neither Israel nor militants in Gaza have appeared eager to seek escalation.

Hamas accused Israel of trying to undermine a reconciliation agreement it reached with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, last month.

Hamas said Israel had made a "futile attempt to sabotage efforts to fix Palestinian unity", a reference to the reconciliation agreement it reached with Abbas last month in which his forces have take over administration of the enclave. Hamas has rejected the demand.