Israeli defense minister confirms 2 Israelis held by Hamas in Gaza


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon confirmed that two Israeli citizens are being held by Hamas in Gaza.

Yaalon said Thursday that he has met with the family of Avera Mengistu, a 28-year-old Ethiopian-Israeli, and updated them on the efforts to repatriate him. The defense chief also said that he has updated the family of an unidentified Bedouin-Israeli on developments.

Both men reportedly crossed into Gaza of their own volition, though both are said to have psychological problems.

Former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on Thursday afternoon said he was not aware that an Israeli, Mengistu, had been held in Gaza for 10 months.

A court-imposed gag order on the cases, including citing foreign media reports, was lifted on Thursday by the Ashkelon Magistrate’s Court.

Haaretz filed a lawsuit to have the gag order lifted. Mengistu’s family had been instructed not to speak about the issue, though it reportedly was known in the Ethiopian-Israeli community.

“We decided to act with restraint and give the state time to bring my brother home,” Ilan Mengistu, a brother of Avera, said in a statement on Thursday. “I ask the people to act with restraint, and we’ll announce our next move soon.

Ilan Mengistu called on Hamas to release his brother and also asked “the State of Israel to do everything to return my brother safely,” and for “the international community to intervene.”

Lior Lotan, a retired Israeli army colonel, reportedly is handling negotiations to return Mengistu to Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that his government is working for the return of the two Israelis and that he holds 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 for these citizens to be released and to see to their return,” he said in a statement issued Thursday.

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