Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met Wednesday with the father of an Israeli Ethiopian widely believed to be held in Hamas’s captivity and vowed to speak to parties that maintain influence with the terror group to secure his release, according to two former Israeli lawmakers who attended the gathering in Ramallah.
Avera Mengistu, whose family has said he suffers from a mental illness, crossed into northern Gaza in September 2014 by way of the beach. After he entered the coastal enclave, Hamas authorities were thought to have arrested him.
“Abbas said that he sees Avera’s case as a humanitarian one and that he does not believe in taking civilians captive,” former Hatnua MK Shlomo Molla told The Times of Israel in phone call. “He said he will do everything directly and indirectly to obtain information on his whereabouts and bring him back to his family including working with parties that hold influence with Hamas.”
While Abbas and Hamas have been at loggerheads for years, Qatar, Turkey and Egypt all have ties with the former and the latter and the PA president possibly could ask one of them to speak to the terror group about Mengistu.
In August, Abbas told Democratic Camp candidate Noa Rothman and MK Isawi Frej at a gathering in Ramllah that he would make an effort to bring Mengistu back to Israel.
Molla, who left the Knesset in 2013, also said that Abbas said he hopes to provide the Mengistu family with some information about Avera in the coming days.
In addition to Mengistu, Hamas is also believed to be holding captive two other Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers thought to have been killed in the 2014 Gaza war.
Molla added that Mengistu’s family had requested to meet Abbas after growing increasingly frustrated with Israel’s handling of Avera’s case.
“The family put its trust in the Israeli government for the past five years, but it saw that it did not do anything. So they asked to meet Abbas to request that he intervene,” he said, adding that he and former MK Taleb el-Sana set up the meeting.
Sana confirmed the contents of Molla’s comments.
Avera’s father and brother, Iyeli and Ilan, respectively, as well as seven other members of the Ethiopian Israeli community attended the meeting with Abbas.
Molla also said that Abbas appeared to be moved by the Mengistu family’s request that he take action to bring Avera back to Israel.
“We could see that he was touched. He told Avera’s father that he wants to bring the smile back to his face and all of the members of the Ethiopian community,” he stated.
After IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was captured in 2006, Abbas said on a number of occasions that he was making efforts to secure his release. Shalit was ultimately freed by Hamas in 2011 in exchange for Israel releasing more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.