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Netanyahu attempts to appease family of missing relative

July 11, 2015 9:33 A.M. (Updated: July 11, 2015 1:50 P.M.)
The family of Avraham Mengistu, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent who is reportedly held captive in the Gaza Strip on July 9, 2015. (AFP/Jack Guez, File)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Friday visited relatives of an Israeli man reportedly held captive by Hamas after a top aide apologized for telling them he would suffer if they went public.

Avraham Mengistu is one of two Israelis  whose suspected detention in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip was revealed Thursday after a gag order was lifted.

A Palestinian Bedouin resident of Israel is also being held, however a gag order on the man's case has not yet been lifted.

The defense ministry confirmed that Mengistu was missing and presumed to be held captive since crossing into the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip last September.

The lifting of a 10-month gag order allowed private Channel 10 television to air audio of Lior Lotan -- coordinator of prisoner of war and missing in action affairs in Netanyahu's office -- haranguing Mengistu's family.

"He has apologized for both the tone and content of the conversation," an official told AFP.

Netanyahu's office said the premier had an hour-long meeting with the family at their Ashkelon home.

"We are doing everything in our ability to return Avra to Israel, just as we are in contact with the family of the other Israeli citizen in order to bring him back to Israel as well," Netanyahu said afterwards.

Israeli authorities strove to keep the pair's plight secret to the extent that then foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman and members of the parliamentary defense and foreign affairs committee said they had been kept totally unaware.

Parliament admitted a failure in its intelligence oversight subcommittee.

"In this case it appears that there was a specific failure. We shall study the case and ensure that it is not repeated," it said late Thursday.

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

Mengistu is one of around 135,000 Jews of Ethiopian descent living in Israel, many of whom have staged protests against alleged police brutality against the minority group in recent months.

While state-sanctioned policies aim to maintain a long-term Jewish majority in Israel at the expense of the growth and well-being of Muslim and Christian Palestinian citizens, Jews of Ethiopian, Sephardi, Mizrahi, and other descent have also historically faced discrimination and racism by the state.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pictured on July 5, 2015, visited relatives of a citizen reportedly held captive by Hamas on July 10. (AFP/Baz Ratner, File)

'Threats and intimidations'

Lior Lotan reportedly threatened Mengistu's family not to criticize the way the government has dealt with the disappearance of their son.

"Anyone who makes Avera into a story about relations between the Ethiopian community and the state of Israel will leave him in Gaza for another year," Lotan is heard telling Mengistu's family, using the name by which he is known to friends and relatives.

"If we aren't together, we will make mistakes and Hamas will translate them into another year or another price," he said.

The exchange over the treatment of Mengistu's family comes as the family of the Palestinian Bedouin citizen of Israel reportedly held in Gaza says they have yet to be contacted by Israeli officials regarding the whereabouts of their relative.

A Bedouin family of the al-Sayed village in the Negev told Ma'an Friday that their 28-year-old relative went missing on April 20 and is believed to be in Gaza, adding that the man had disappeared several times over the years and had been safely returned from Gaza twice before.

While Hamas has not confirmed that the movement is indeed holding the two Israeli citizens, a Hamas leader said Friday that talks would only take place with Israel regarding an exchange deal after Israel releases Palestinians who have been rearrested, despite being released in past prisoner swaps.

In 2011, Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been held by Hamas for five years, but over 70 were rearrested in 2014 in violation of the agreement.

Writing in Maariv, commentator Eitan Haber, an adviser to late premier Yitzhak Rabin, said Netanyahu was anxious to avoid a reprise of the Shalit affair, which saw public opinion sharply divided for and against the mass release.

"The prime minister did not and does not want to repeat the same manoeuvre in which dozens of life prisoners, who were supposed to take their last breath within the confines of an Israeli prison, were freed," Haber wrote.

Israeli defense officials told Israeli media Friday that Israel "does not intend to free Palestinian prisoners" in exchange for the two Israeli citizens purportedly being held.

Ma'an staff contributed to this report.

Joe Fattal / USA
I don't know if Netanyahu attempt to appease the Ethiopian family, but I know Netanyahu is attempting to appease the Ethiopian community in his country. If he was interested in that man he would have done something about it a year ago.
11/07/2015 10:18
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