The workers union at the Israel Electric Corporation announced Thursday that employees will not repair the power lines to Gaza until the Strip’s ruling Hamas terror group returns a civilian and the bodies of two IDF soldiers it is believed to be holding in the Palestinian enclave.
IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul were killed in the summer 2014 war with Hamas, while civilian Avera Mengistu was captured after he entered Gaza of his own accord in the same year. Mengistu reportedly suffers from mental health issues.
The union’s statement made no mention of Hisham al-Sayed, a second civilian who entered the Strip in 2015.
The company’s management issued a statement in response, saying that IEC was a “government company, subject to the provisions of the law, and we believe that electricity is an essential product that is outside the conflict.”
The company added that it “hopes the boys are brought home.”
Israeli officials have said Hamas rockets fired at Israel damaged power lines, cutting off hundreds of thousands of Gazans from electricity.
On Wednesday, several hundred people gathered outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem to demand the return of the missing soldiers and civilians as a condition for any ceasefire with Hamas.
Prominent Israeli musicians led the rally, including Idan Amedi, Shlomi Shabbat, Miri Mesika and Zehava Ben.
Last week, a military official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Gaza was down to just five hours of electricity per day, after having 16 hours per day on average before the fighting began.
The lack of electricity is partially due to Israel’s closure of the Kerem Shalom Crossing, through which Gaza receives most of its fuel, some of which is used for the Strip’s own power station.
Five out of ten power lines supplying Gaza have reportedly been damaged.
Israel has worked to secure the release of the soldiers’ bodies and the civilians, often using the Egyptian military, which maintains ties to both Jerusalem and Hamas, as an intermediary.
Hamas seeks in exchange the release of Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails — both members of Hamas and of other terror groups. Some of the prisoners had already been freed during the 2011 prisoner exchange deal, but were re-arrested during a 2014 crackdown on the terror group in the West Bank following the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers.
Though Israeli officials have acknowledged that talks are ongoing for the release of Israeli captives held by Hamas, they have refrained from discussing the specific proposals and offers being made in the negotiations.