JERUSALEM (JTA) – Two Israelis are believed to be held in the Gaza Strip, after disappearing there in recent months.
A court-imposed gag order on the case, including citing foreign media reports, was lifted Thursday by the Ashkelon Magistrate’s Court.
Ethiopian Israeli Avera Mengistu, 28, climbed over the security fence between Israel and Gaza in September, where he was detained and questioned by Hamas, Haaretz reported. Hamas claims he was then released and left for Sinai.
An unnamed Arab-Israeli Bedouin citizen crossed into Gaza at the Erez Crossing in April after which he was taken into custody by Hamas and is still being held, according to Haaretz, which filed a lawsuit to have the gag order lifted.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshal said from Doha that Israel, through European intermediaries, asked Hamas to release the two men and the two bodies of Israeli soldiers taken during last summer’s Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza. Hamas is demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners rearrested after being freed under the deal for the return of Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit.
No negotiations currently are being held to bring about the releases.
Israeli Defense officials told Haaretz that it is believed that Mengistu is still alive and being held by Hamas. He was known to have psychological problems in the past, according to the newspaper. The family supported in court the lifting of the gag order. The family and others in the Ethiopian community have charged that the poor handling of the case is due to racism.
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.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called the captive situation “painful” and said he has been following it closely since it began. He also said he has been in contact with the Megistu family.
“This is a humanitarian issue, and we expect those holding him to behave accordingly and return him in good health. According to the information which has arisen, Mengistu is being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. We will continue to make every effort in order to bring an end to this incident, as soon as possible,” Rivlin said in a statement.