Photo Credit: Hamas Official Website
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Hamas' military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades,
denied Friday that contact or negotiations were being made with Israel regarding four Israelis currently held captive in the Gaza Strip, who the group said would not be returned unless Israel "paid a price."
“The enemy [Israel] will only receive information on their [captured Israelis'] fate by paying a price before and after negotiations,” military spokesman Abu Ubaida said in a statement on Al-Aqsa TV.
Abu Ubaida said: “[Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu is lying to his people, misleading them and deceiving the families of his imprisoned soldiers.”
Netanyahu said last Sunday that “important progress” had been made in obtaining the return of two soldiers that have been missing since Israel’s 2014 offensive on the Gaza Strip.
Photos of the four Israelis held by Hamas were televised during Abu Ubaida’s address. Israeli media identified the four as Avera Mengistu, a Bedouin citizen of Israel whose identity has not been released, as well as Israeli soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.
Israel’s defense ministry in July 2015 announced
that Mengistu, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent, was being held by Hamas in Gaza after reportedly crossing into the Gaza Strip on his own accord in September 2014.
Mengistu’s family -- threatened
by Israeli officials to keep their son’s disappearance quiet -- was angered by the military's reaction, alleging that more effort would have been put into finding him if he were white.
A 28-year-old Bedouin citizen of Israel also believed to be in Hamas custody reportedly went missing in April 2015.
The two soldiers, Goldin and Shaul, were pronounced dead during the 2014 war and Hamas later claimed to be holding their bodies.
The two soldiers’ families in November protested
that the Israeli government halt all returns of Palestinian bodies to their families until Hamas turned over the soldiers’ bodies.
In the summer prior, Israeli leadership attempted to negotiate the release of Palestinian bodies as well as several Hamas affiliates detained from the Gaza Strip in exchange for the bodies of the two soldiers.
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.
Following the Israeli Defense Ministry’s announcement in July of Mengistu and and the unidentified Bedouin, a Hamas official in Gaza said: "Nothing is for free.”
“In advance of any discussion Hamas demands the release of all the prisoners freed in the swap for Gilad Shalit and subsequently re-arrested," the official said, speaking on anonymity.