Two Israeli men are being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza, Israeli officials reported on Thursday, including one who was captured in the the territory eight months ago in September after he travelled over the border fence for unknown reasons.
The man who has been in Gaza since September was named as Avraham Mengistu, 28, of Ashkelon. The gag order on his case was lifted Thursday morning following a lawsuit from Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth. The name of the second man, a Bedouin who also apparently crossed the border of his own volition, was not released.
Ethiopian-born Israeli Mengistu is alive and being kept by Hamas in Gaza, an Israeli security source said Thursday in a briefing with reporters. The source said no negotiations were currently taking place for his release.
The defence ministry said in a statement that “according to credible intelligence” Avraham Mengistu, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent, “is being held against his will by Hamas in Gaza” and that he had “independently crossed the security fence” into Gaza. Media reports have stated that the 28-year-old had climbed over the barrier for unclear reasons, in September 2014, shortly after the end of Operation Protective Edge.
The statement added, “furthermore, the defence establishment is currently dealing with an additional case of an Israeli Arab also being held in Gaza,” who Israeli media has described as belonging to the Bedouin community.
The statement underlined that “Israel has appealed to international and regional interlocutors to demand his immediate release and verify his well-being”.
Hamas is yet to comment on the case.
The case had previously been kept quiet due to an Israeli gag order, which was lifted on Thursday by a judge in the southern city of Ashkelon, where Mr Mengistu lived, following a lawsuit by Haaretz newspaper.
The reports said that information on the unidentified Bedouin man was still under a gag order.
Israeli media said that authorities had decided to go public with the story in the hope it might spur negotiations for their release.
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin told reporters in southern Israel: “This is a humanitarian issue, and we expect those holding him to behave accordingly and return him in good health”.
Mr Mengitsu’s family briefly addressed journalists outside their home on Thursday, calling on Hamas to release him and the Israeli government to work toward his safe return.
Politician and former head of the Shin Bet security service Avi Dichter told army radio that it could be possible to combine indirect talks on their cases with ongoing efforts to secure the return of body parts of two Israel soldiers killed during the 2014 Gaza war. “If within the parameters of negotiations to get back the bodies of our soldiers…we can manage to get these two Israelis who are in Gaza it would be a great achievement,” said Dichter.
The Israeli army has identified the dead soldiers as Staff Sergeant Oron Shaul and Lieutenant Hadar Goldin.
In 2006, Hamas captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and held him for five years before freeing him in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.