Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas promised Democratic Camp members on Tuesday that he would make an effort to secure the release of an Israeli man being held captive in Gaza, MK Issawi Frej said on Wednesday.
Avera Mengistu is widely believed to be held by Hamas, a rival to Abbas’s Fatah party, since last being seen entering the Palestinian enclave almost five years ago.
Frej said Abbas made the pledge when he and fellow Democratic Camp candidate Noa Rothman met the PA president on Tuesday at his office in Ramallah.
“We raised the case of Avera Mengistu with him and he vowed that he would make great efforts to secure his release,” Frej told The Times of Israel in a phone call. “We will be following up with Abbas’s office on this issue and we already heard this morning from the PA that they have started to work on it.”
In September 2014, Mengistu, whose family has said he suffers from a mental illness, crossed into northern Gaza from the beach at Zikim. After he entered the coastal enclave, the Hamas terror group was thought to have arrested him.
In addition to Mengistu, Hamas is also believed to be holding captive two other Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war.
Asked whether Abbas said he would intervene to secure the release of the other Israelis and the remains of the soldiers believed to be held by Hamas, Frej said the PA president solely offered to help to bring Mengistu back to Israel.
“He understands that the Mengistu case is a humanitarian one,” he said.
Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Hamas terror group have been at loggerheads since the latter ousted the Fatah-dominated PA from Gaza in 2007.
Talal Okal, a Gaza-based analyst, said that while Abbas likely would find it difficult to secure Mengistu’s release by appealing directly to Hamas, he could turn to Egypt, Qatar or Turkey for assistance.
“All of these states have relationships with Hamas and he could ask them to push for his release,” he said in a phone call.
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.
Frej also denied a report that Abbas told him and Rothman that he wishes that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would lose the upcoming national elections in September.
“He did not say that or mention Netanyahu’s name. What he said was he is awaiting the result of the elections and hopes there will be a government that is aware of the importance of renewing talks,” the Democratic Camp candidate said.
Netanyahu tweeted a screenshot of The Jerusalem Post report with the caption, “Abu Mazen in a meeting with Meretz tonight: ‘I hope that Netanyahu will lose in the elections.’ If someone needed another reason to vote for Likud…,” referring to PA president’s nickname.
אבו מאזן בפגישה עם מרצ הערב: ״מקווה שנתניהו יפסיד בבחירות״. אם מישהו היה צריך עוד סיבה להצביע לליכוד… pic.twitter.com/RyZUHPyHbu
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) August 13, 2019
A spokesman for Rothman also denied the report: “That’s fake news and that was not said.”