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Israel appears to be ready to allow some of its security prisoners with Jordanian citizenship to complete their sentences in their home country – a move that appears to be connected to a possible prisoner exchange with Hamas.
The deal could include Abdullah Barghouti, who has been repeatedly on top of the list of prisoners drawn up by Hamas to be freed by Israel in any prisoner exchange. Israel had refused to release Barghouti, a member of the Hamas military wing, in its 2011 prisoner exchange with the group.
Barghouti is serving 67 life sentences, after his conviction in Israel for his role as a bomb maker. The move has sparked discussions in Israel that a prisoner exchange is nearing.
Fadi Farah, the head of Jordan’s National Committee for Prisoners and Missing Persons in Israeli Detention Centers, confirmed to The Media Line this week that the transfers could well be connected to a Hamas-Israel prisoner exchange that has been in the works since 2014 when Israeli soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin were killed in action in Gaza and their bodies seized.
Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, two living Israeli hostages, were captured in 2014 and 2015 respectively when they each entered Gaza of their own volition.
According to Farah, members of the Israeli security services have visited a number of Jordanian prisoners, accompanied by plainclothes officers. The prisoners were asked to sign a document that would pave the way for them to complete their sentences in Jordan, he said.
“At least four prisoners have agreed to the suggestion, while others have yet to be asked to sign this agreement,” Farah said, adding he that he was not sure to which Israeli unit the plainclothes officers belonged.
“From the Israeli side, this [return of prisoners to Jordan] would lessen the cost of the deal with Hamas as the Israelis will make the transfer as part of the deal rather than releasing long-held prisoners,” Farah said.
Jordanian national Abdel Fatah Musleh told The Media Line that his son Mohammad, who is serving a five-year sentence for security offenses, is one of the four prisoners who have signed the paperwork to finish his sentence in Jordan.
“My son has 1.5 years left in his term,” Musleh said. “Since his arrest, I have not been able to see him. Even though I was promised twice, I was not given [an Israeli] visa that would allow me to visit.”
In addition to Musleh and Barghouti, the two other prisoners who have reportedly signed the agreement to finish their terms in Jordan are Mohammad Rimawi, who is serving a life sentence for his role in the 2001 assassination of Israeli government minister Rehavam Ze’evi, and Thaer Lowzi, who is serving a 19-year sentence for attacking Israelis.
Israel has in the past agreed to such transfers for both criminal and security prisoners. In 2007, for instance, several Jordanian security prisoners were allowed by Israel to complete their prison terms in Jordan.
Musleh said that prisoners are concerned that Israel is indeed aiming to make the transfers to Jordan part of a deal with Hamas.
“We have no idea what is happening, the Jordanian Foreign Ministry doesn’t know either,” he said. “We are concerned that this is part of a bigger deal that involves the prisoner exchange with Hamas.”
Farah told Amman’s Radio Al-Balad on Monday that while he and the prisoners’ families are skeptical, they are eager for a hopeful sign.
“A drowning person is willing to clutch any straw,” Farah said.
Among the 17 Jordanian prisoners in Israel, 10 have already completed 18 years of their sentences, including eight serving life terms.
An eighteenth Jordanian prisoner was recently released but has been rearrested and held on a four-month administrative detention order. His case is not part of any burgeoning agreement, sources say.
The Jordanian Foreign Ministry told a delegation of the prisoners’ parents that it had no information on the issue.
The Israel Prison Service (IPS) told The Media Line that it is in compliance with the provisions of the law that permits foreign prisoners “to submit a request to serve their sentences in the country of their citizenship.”
The IPS said that such requests have been submitted over the years, by both criminal and security prisoners. The service also said, however, that none of the prisoners in this particular case have to date been transferred to Jordan, and that the power to make a decision on this matter lies with the minister of justice.
Israel’s Justice Ministry was contacted for a response but had not replied at press time.