A Hamas rally held to mark the anniversary of the opening of last summer’s hostilities mocked fallen IDF St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul, whose body is believed to be in their hands. According to various media reports, a parade float at the rally displayed a bronze fist holding a mock-up of Shaul’s dog-tag, along with two others emblazoned with question marks.
Shaul, 20, went missing during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge. His armored personnel carrier was attacked in Gaza City and six other soldiers lost their lives. Shaul was declared dead, on the basis of forensic evidence, but his body was never recovered.
During the conflict, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, claimed to have captured him. Officially, however, Hamas neither confirms nor denies holding Shaul’s body or that of Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23, also missing since the battle in which he is believed to have been killed.
On Wednesday, an unnamed senior Hamas official told Turkey’s Anatolia news agency that Israel had indirectly approached the group to negotiate the return of the two men’s bodies.
“The European mediator sent a message from the government of Israel, who wants to open a channel of communication to bring back the bodies of its soldiers being held by Hamas since the last war in Gaza,” the official was quoted by The Jerusalem Post as saying.
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal confirmed the Anatolia report to the London-based al-Araby al-Jadeed newspaper. Mashaal told the paper Hamas had yet to issue an official response.
The Anatolia source, however, said that Hamas was not open to negotiations until all operatives released during the Gilad Shalit deal then rearrested were again freed.
IDF tank gunner Shalit was held captive by Hamas for over five years. 1,027 Palestinian terrorists were released from Israeli prisons in exchange for his freedom in 2011. Many of them returned to paramilitary activity, in contradiction with the terms of the deal, and were rearrested in the weeks following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah.
Meanwhile, also at the Gaza City rally, al-Qassam Brigade spokesman Abu Obeida announced the group had developed new, improved locally-made missiles for use against Israel. Models of the two missiles, about three to four meters (9 to 13 feet) in length, were displayed on a the bed of a military truck.
Abu Obeida claimed the missiles represented a “qualitative leap” forward, but did not provide details.