Gaza holding Israelis

2015-07-09 16:13
A crow sits on a barbwire fence on the Mediterranean sea beach front near Kibbutz Zikim, on the Israel-Gaza border, near where Israeli Avraham Mangisto 'independently' crossed the border fence into the Gaza Strip. (Ariel Schalit, AP)

A crow sits on a barbwire fence on the Mediterranean sea beach front near Kibbutz Zikim, on the Israel-Gaza border, near where Israeli Avraham Mangisto 'independently' crossed the border fence into the Gaza Strip. (Ariel Schalit, AP)

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Jerusalem - Two Israeli citizens are being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday, a situation that could lead to demands for a prisoner exchange between Israel and the Islamist militant group.

Hamas, which has been in control of the small coastal territory since 2007 and fought three wars with Israel since then, declined to comment.

"We are working for the return of the two Israelis who crossed the border into Gaza," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, confirming information that has been restricted by the Israeli military censor since last September.

"We hold Hamas responsible for their safety."

Israel's defence ministry identified one of those held as Avraham Mengisto, 26, an Israeli of Ethiopian origin. The other is an Israeli Arab who was not named.

The ministry said it believed Mengisto, a resident of Ashkelon, a city close to the Gaza border, had crossed into the coastal territory on foot on September 7 2014. It gave no details on how or when the Israeli Arab had entered the territory.

Mengisto's brother, Ilan, said Avraham was unwell and needed help. In an emotional plea outside the family's apartment in Ashkelon, he called on Hamas to consider his brother's medical state and "release him immediately".

"This is a distressing humanitarian case because my brother is not well," he said. "I ask the Israeli government to bring him home safely and call on the international community to intervene and to bring its influence to bear for his release."

Israel has in the past engaged in prisoner swaps with Hamas, most notably in 2011, when Gilad Shalit, a soldier abducted by militants in a cross-border raid in 2006, was released in exchange for 1 000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

No tactical value

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said the Mengisto family had feared for Avraham's safety before he crossed into Gaza, and that he should not be considered an asset - a reference to his possible use in a prisoner swap.

"Without discussing [medical] details, his family was very worried about him before he left," Rivlin told reporters. "He cannot be considered to hold tactical or strategic value in the struggle between us and Hamas or any other foes."

Gaza is fenced in by Israel to the north and east and by Egypt to the south. To the west it faces the Mediterranean. In some places the fence between Israel and Gaza is only a few metres high, while it is also possible to swim around into Gaza, although the Israeli military closely monitors such activity.

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said this week that Israel was seeking the return of the remains of two soldiers killed during last year's war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, a separate situation to the missing citizens.

In the 50-day war that ended last August, more than 2 100 Palestinians were killed, most of them civilians. Israel put the number of its dead at 67 soldiers and six civilians.

Israeli air strikes and shelling hammered the densely populated Gaza Strip, causing widespread destruction of homes and schools. Hamas and other militant groups launched thousands of rockets and mortar bombs from Gaza into Israel.

Read more on:    hamas  |  gaza  |  israel

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