The family of an Israeli man being held captive by Hamas in Gaza called on the group to release him and on the international community to intervene to secure his release.
Ilan Mengistu, brother of Avraham Mengistu, 28, told journalists gathered outside the family’s Ashkelon home that his brother who has slipped into Gaza some 10 months earlier was not well, calling on the Gaza-based group to grant a release on humanitarian grounds.
“I turn to Hamas to consider my brother’s condition and to return him immediately,” Mengistu said, surrounded by other family members, including his mother, who had tears in her eyes.
Mengistu asked the Israel government to “do everything” to retrieve Avraham safely and speedily, and called on international community to become involved, in what he described as a “humanitarian case.”
“My brother is unwell,” he added, but did not provide details.
An Israeli security source said earlier that Mengistu had been exempted from military service because of mental health issues.
Mengistu’s disappearance had been held under gag order until Thursday morning, when a court ordered it released, reportedly at the request of family members as well as two newspapers.
Ilan Mengistu said the tactic of keeping the case under wraps was a bid to help negotiations.
“The family chose until now to remain discreet in order to give the Israeli authorities time to negotiate my brother’s release,” he said.
Officials say they are trying to start talks with Hamas over his release, as well as of another Israeli man and the bodies of two soldiers killed in Gaza last year, turning to European mediators to broker talks.
An Israeli source said Thursday that Hamas has so far refused to negotiate.
Hamas officials said earlier that they were not holding Mengistu but had released him, whereupon he made his way to Egypt.
A friend of the family wearing a shirt with Mengistu’s name on it told reporters outside the family’s home that many questions remained unanswered. The family was told earlier on that they should keep the situation quiet, he said.
“We know that he has been in Gaza for several months,” said Avi Yaalo. “We don’t have any more information. The family is demanding the return of their son in good health.”
Jonathan Beck and AFP contributed to this report.