Egypt handed over four members of Hamas’ military wing who were kidnapped in Egypt in 2015 to Hamas officials in Gaza on Thursday morning, according to a senior Hamas official.
In addition to the four Qassam Brigades members — Yasser Zannoun, Hussein al-Zebda, Abdullah Abul Jebeen, Abdel Dayem Abu Lebda – four other Palestinians unaffiliated with Hamas who were detained in Egypt – Waseem Abu Regella, Abdel Rahman Mostafa, Salem Sheikh al-Eid, Abdel Aziz Abu Khatla – were also included in the handover, the source said.
The eight men were received by Rawhi Mushtaha, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, in Gaza, the source said, adding that Egyptian intelligence demanded that the handoff be done without any media presence and that the men refrain from conducting any press interviews.
The four Qassam Brigades members were abducted at gunpoint by masked men while on a bus carrying approximately 50 people from the Rafah border crossing to Cairo in 2015. Family members of the four men told Mada Masr at the time that they they were on their way to Cairo International Airport to seek medical treatment abroad.
Egypt refused to recognize the existence of the four men for years, a Hamas source in Cairo previously told Mada Masr. While Egypt’s Foreign Ministry never issued an official statement on the abduction, local media outlets at the time cited Egyptian officials as insisting that they do not know of the whereabouts of the four men.
That changed in recent weeks, when a Hamas delegation led by senior leader Ismail Haniyeh held a series of meetings with Egyptian General Intelligence Service officers to negotiate their release, a source close to Hamas told Mada Masr. The Hamas source in Cairo added that Haniyeh promised not to speak to the media about “what happened to the men in the cellars of Egyptian detention centers,” adding that Egypt is “now convinced the four detainees had no intention of carrying out any activities inside Egypt.”
The timing of the concession is tied to the Egyptian intelligence’s attempt to maintain the truce between Hamas and Israel, following setbacks in Egypt’s mediation efforts in early February, when delegations from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah were in Cairo.
In exchange for the release of the four men, Hamas has pledged to resume negotiations with Egypt over a truce with Israel, according to the source close to Hamas.