In stunning news just released by Israeli authorities after a gag order was lifted by court order, Hamas has been holding two Israeli citizens captive for months:
Two Israeli men have been held captive In Gaza, including one in the Strip since September after he sneaked over the border fence for unknown reasons, it was cleared for publication Thursday.
The man 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.
Israeli officials said they believe Mengistu is being held by Hamas and is still alive.
An official said Israel does not consider the Israeli to be a captive, and that Israel was treating the matter as a humanitarian issue. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
Defense officials also confirmed a second Israeli man is also being held in Gaza.
The man was not named, but a statement from the IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories confirmed he is a “young man from a minority group,” an Israeli euphemism often used to denote members of the Arab community.
The man is from the Bedouin town town of Hura and crossed over about three months ago near hothouses belonging to Kibbutz Erez along the border, Ynet news reported.
According to COGAT, the man crossed over into Gaza other times as well.
The stories of both missing persons raise more questions than they answer.
A spokesman for Hamas, Salah Bardawil, declined comment. “We don’t have any information about it. Even if is true, we don’t have instructions to talk about it,” he said.
However, an Israeli negotiator told The Times of Israel that Hamas says it let Mengistu go and the group believes he is no longer in Gaza but has sneaked into Sinai.
According to Israeli sources cited in Hebrew media, Mengistu was last seen fleeing through a border fence next to Zikim beach in southern Israel on the night of September 7.
The breach in the fence had been left by tanks maneuvering in the area during the war with Hamas led fighters in Gaza which had ended just a week earlier.
Israeli troops in the area who spotted him believed him to be a Palestinian returning the territory and, seeing he was unarmed, did not shoot at him.
After entering the Strip, Mengistu walked south where he met with Gazan fisherman.
It was not clear why he entered the Strip. His brother Yalo told Haaretz he left a bag on the beach containing a Bible.
Some reports after his capture indicated he may have suffered from a mental illness.
As to the gag order, the reasons for that are also questionable. It’s possible that the government decided to do things differently after having learned their lessons from the Gilad Shalit hostage crisis. The lessons they learned taught that negotiating with terrorists in the media limelight, while the family and their supporters kept Shalit’s captivity in the public eye for years, only led to huge pressure on the government and eventually the absurdly lop-sided prisoner exchange. So perhaps the Israeli authorities thought it better to negotiate in secret for Mengistu’s release.
Negotiations have been ongoing in secret to secure his release. It was unclear why the gag order was initially put in place.
Mengistu’s family was told by Israeli authorities to keep the incident under wraps while officials attempted to negotiate his release. After diplomatic channels proved fruitless, the family demanded the gag order be lifted.
Channel 2 TV said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been in touch with Mengisto’s parents and that Lior Lotan, a retired Israeli army colonel, was handling negotiations to return Mengisto to Israel.
“Israel is continuing efforts to bring this incident to a close and bring home the Israeli citizen,” COGAT, which acts as a liaison between the Israeli military and the Palestinian population, said in a statement.
Gershon Baskin, an Israeli negotiator involved in the talks for Mengistu, said Hamas officials told him the man was briefly detained by the group but let go when it became clear he had mental issues.
“They wanted to return him back to Israel; he refused to be sent back,” Baskin said, quoting Hamas.
The officials said they let Mengistu go and believe he fled into the Sinai Peninsula via a tunnel, according to Baskin.
“According to Hamas, they’re not holding him and this has been checked by the government, the Hamas police and the al-Qassam Brigade,” said Baskin, who said he has been involved in talks with Mashaal for months to secure Mengistu’s release.
Mengistu was born in Ethiopia in 1986. According to a report in Ynet News, he tended to leave his house for extended periods of time without informing his family and was reported lost at least three times.
He is known to Ashkelon’s welfare officials.
I am loath to trust Hamas, but the fact that they’re not blaring his captivity and not asking for a ransom or prisoner release (besides a proforma demand as mentioned below) leads me to think that maybe this time they’re telling the truth. Let us keep praying that Avraham Mengistu is still alive and that he is returned safely to his family very soon.
There have been no other details about the second missing man.
Also, as the article reminds us, we must not forget that Hamas are still holding the remains of 2 IDF soldiers killed in Operation Protective Edge:
Israeli officials have confirmed that the group holds the remains of deceased IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul and that they have been trying to negotiate for their release, along with Mengistu.
Israeli officials have been wary of Hamas attempting to capture Israelis to use as bargaining chips since the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit from captivity in October 2011 in exchange for 1,027 Palestinians being held by Israel.
Speaking with the Arabic language al-Araby al-Jadeed newspaper, Mashaal claimed Israel had requested of European officials that they mediate in negotiations with Hamas over the release of the captured individuals.
“We won’t let Israeli prisoners go before the release of Palestinian prisoners,” Mashaal told the outlet.
Baskin dismissed Mashaal’s claim as a “negotiating position.”
In October last year, Mohammed Nazzal, a senior figure in Hamas’s political wing, stressed that his group would demand that Israel “pay a price” for every bit of information regarding the whereabouts of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul’s remains. Nazzal did not indicate what the group would demand in exchange for such information.
Goldin and Shaul were killed in separate incidents during fighting in Gaza during the summer’s 50-day military campaign. They were both declared dead based on evidence the army acquired, but their bodies were never recovered by Israel.
May the memories of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul be for a blessing, and may their families be able to bring them to a proper burial in Israel.
Hamas’s cruelty and sadistic use of dead bodies as a negotiating tool is beneath contempt. Their vagueness on Mengistu’s fate is an additional act of sadism. If, as most authorities seem to believe, they are not holding him, they should come out and admit it openly.
But we expect nothing more from the likes of Hamas. They never fail to live down to our expectations.