Hamas leader says open to Israel prisoner deal

Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - The head of Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas said Tuesday it was ready to negotiate with Israel to trade two Israeli captives and the bodies of two soldiers it is holding.

"We in Hamas are ready to start negotiations to achieve a deal through a third party mediator," Ismail Haniya said in a speech marking the Palestinians' annual Prisoners' Day.

The movement has previously suggested it is willing to reach a deal similar to the 2011 one that saw Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit freed in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails.

But Haniya's comments were his most direct yet.

Two Israeli soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, are believed to have been killed in the 2014 war in Gaza and their remains held by Hamas.

Two Israeli civilians, both said to be mentally unstable, are also believed to have entered Gaza and to be held by Hamas.

They are Avera Mengistu, an Israeli Jew of Ethiopian descent, and a Muslim Bedouin, Hisham Al-Sayed.

Talks about a potential deal have long been rumoured, but little public progress has been made.

Around 6,500 Palestinians are currently in Israeli jails, according to the Palestinian Prisoners' Club.