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2 Israelis held in Gaza, one by Hamas

July 9, 2015 10:58 A.M. (Updated: July 9, 2015 10:09 P.M.)
Israeli soldiers patrol the border with the Gaza Strip. (AFP/Menahem Kahana, File)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Two Israelis are being held captive in the Gaza Strip, including one detained by Hamas after crossing into the territory last year, Israel's defense ministry said Thursday.

The ministry said that "according to credible intelligence" Avraham Mengistu, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent, "is being held against his will by Hamas in Gaza."

"Furthermore, the defense establishment is currently dealing with an additional case of an Israeli Arab also being held in Gaza," it said in a statement, without providing further details on the second person.

While Hamas had not yet commented on the case, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon alleged the two were "held by Hamas," and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "We hold Hamas responsible for their welfare."

"I expect the international community, which expresses its concern over the humanitarian situation in Gaza, to issue a clear call to release the citizens and ensure their return," Netanyahu said in a statement, adding that Israel was "working to return the two," without elaborating.

Mengistu had "independently crossed the security fence" into Gaza, on September 7, shortly after last summer's war between Israel and Hamas, the statement said.

"Israel has appealed to international and regional interlocutors to demand his immediate release and verify his well-being," the statement added.

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 Mengistu lived, local media reported.

The reports said that information on the unidentified Palestinian citizen of Israel was still under a gag order.

Israeli media reported that authorities had decided to allow the story to be released in the hope it might spur negotiations for their release.

Local media also reported that the family of Mengistu was angered by the Israeli military's reaction, alleging that more effort would have been put into finding him if he were white.

Members of Israel's 135,000-strong Ethiopian Jewish community say they suffer racism and discrimination from the Israeli government, which has systematically favored white Ashkenazi Jews in Israel. The community, and have staged several rallies against alleged police brutality and racism in recent months.

The 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.

"The family chose until now to remain discrete," said brother Asho Mengistu, surrounded by other family members, including his mother, who had tears in her eyes.

Asho Mengistu said his brother was not in good health but did not provide details.

The brother and mother of Avraham Mengistu -- an Israeli of Ethiopian descent who is reportedly being held captive in the Gaza Strip -- appeal for his release during a press conference in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, on July 9, 2015. (AFP/Jack Guez)

'Nothing is free'

A friend of the family wearing a shirt with Mengistu's name on it told reporters outside the family's home that many questions remained unanswered. The family was told earlier on that they should keep the situation quiet, he said.

"We know that he has been in Gaza for several months," said Avi Yaalo. "We don't have any more information. The family is demanding the return of their son in good health."

Israeli lawmaker 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, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party.

The Israeli army has identified the dead soldiers as Staff Sergeant Oron Shaul and Lieutenant Hadar Goldin.

In 2006, Gaza militants captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and held him for five years before freeing him in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Many have since been rearrested in violation of the agreement, and their release has been demanded by Hamas.

"Nothing is for free," a Hamas official in Gaza told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. "In advance of any discussion Hamas demands the release of all the prisoners freed in the swap for Gilad Shalit and subsequently re-arrested."

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.
Daniel / Aus
And how many tausend Palestinians are held in Israel ???????????
09/07/2015 11:24
Joe Fattal / USA
If that man held by Hamas was not an Ethiopian we would have known about it year ago. And that should reminds us of that Ethiopian Israeli soldier that was beaten by the Israeli police.
09/07/2015 12:27
Mel / UK
Held for 1 yr.? Pfff, just shows how 'much' value ruling Ashkenazi's put on their non-white Jewish fellow citizens!
And what about 1.8million Gazan's held POW by Israel?
09/07/2015 15:55
Barry / USA
There is obviously more to this story.
09/07/2015 18:35
Truth / USA
Allegedly the two idiots went into Gaza voluntarily. No need to rescue them. Let Hamas keep them and show them who they really are and what they have not learned to appreciate in and about Israel.
09/07/2015 18:57
@Mel/UK / UNknown
Mengistu, who is mentally disturbed, keeps on climbing the fence in to the Gaza Strip and has done so since last September. The Hamas authorities always send him back. He will no doubt try again. As for the second case, dozens of Bedouin are known to cross back and forth from Israel to Gaza and Sina
09/07/2015 19:17
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