The father of an Israeli held captive by Hamas in the Gaza Strip said Wednesday he is prepared to wait for his son to be released if it means that all Israelis held in the Palestinian enclave are returned home.
Sha’aban al-Sayed spoke to Radio 103FM the day after Hamas released a short video of his son, Hisham al-Sayed, showing him hooked up to oxygen and claiming his health had deteriorated.
A Lebanese media network with ties to Hamas reported that the terror group has offered Israel to release al-Sayed in exchange for all sick Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. It was not clear when the reported offer was made.
Asked for his view on the report of a proposal that could secure freedom for his son after seven years in Gaza, Sha’aban al-Sayed said “it is somewhat encouraging.”
But he stressed that any exchange deal with Hamas should be for all captives. The terror group currently holds two living Israelis — al-Sayed and Avera Mengistu — along with the bodies of two Israeli soldiers: Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin.
“We want all the captives to return home to their families,” al-Sayed told the radio station. “I am prepared to wait more so that they release all of them.”
He said any partial exchange for only some of the captive Israelis would be “toying with the families’ conscience.”
Al-Sayed noted that though he has heard there are efforts being made all the time to secure the release of the captives, “we have received no new details.”
Regarding his son, al-Sayed said he looked “more or less okay.”
זה התיעוד להישאם אסייד המוחזק בידי החמאס pic.twitter.com/kHfZVM3hKl
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Al-Sayed cast doubt on Hamas’s claim that his son’s health had deteriorated, citing “a father’s intuition” of what he gleaned from his son’s movements in the short clip.
He noted that his son did not have any physical health problems in the past, only psychiatric issues. The family in the past sent messages via various non-government organizations to Hamas with details of the medications that his son needs, he said.
“I hope they are giving him the right medications,” al-Sayed said. “We are trying to be hopeful.”
In a joint statement with her husband on Tuesday, Hisham’s mother Manal spoke of her feelings after seeing the video — her first glimpse of her son since he was taken captive.
“I was relieved to see him, and I cried when I saw the video, but I also saw that he is not well,” she said. “I don’t know if he is getting the treatment he needs. I think about him day and night, and I just want my son to come back to me.”
Both al-Sayed and Mengistu had a history of mental illness. The two Israeli citizens crossed the Gaza boundary voluntarily between 2014 and 2015 and have since been held prisoner by Hamas.
The two soldiers, Shaul and Goldin, were killed during the 2014 Gaza war. Both their families have repeatedly petitioned the Israeli government to push for a prisoner exchange deal to receive their children’s bodies.
Speaking at a Wednesday conference, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the video’s goal was “extortion over a humanitarian issue.”
“Hamas is holding captive for years the four boys against international law, against morals,” he said. “Hamas is responsible for this, and our expectation is for the international community to act against this behavior. Israel is continuing to act in order to return them home.”
“It is a humanitarian issue, and blackmail and other tricks will not change our conduct,” Gantz added.
Prisoner exchange offer
Hamas is ready to conduct an “urgent humanitarian prisoner exchange” to swap Israeli captive Hisham al-Sayed for the release of all sick Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, the Al-Mayadeen news agency reported Tuesday.
Al-Mayadeen, a Lebanese television network, is widely seen as close to the Hezbollah and Hamas terror groups.
The reported Hamas demand is an apparent departure from the Islamist group’s classic approach to negotiating. Hamas has often demanded the release of prisoners for proof of life footage alone.
But Hamas released the video of al-Sayed without publicly demanding anything in exchange from Israel.
Israel would likely hesitate before agreeing to the reported Hamas condition for al-Sayed’s release. The list of sick Palestinians includes many convicted of serious security offenses, including Nasser Abu Hmeid, a Palestinian prisoner with cancer who masterminded terror attacks during the Second Intifada.
Channel 12 news speculated that there are dozens of sick Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
Warning from Israel
Meanwhile, Israel has reportedly passed along messages to Hamas through various channels that it will hold the terror group responsible if the health of the two living captives being held in Gaza worsens.
The message was passed along after Hamas released the footage of al-Sayed, Channel 12 reported, without citing any sources.
An unnamed Israeli source told the station, “Hamas is responsible for the fate and condition of the captive Israelis. Israel knows they are alive and Hamas will be held responsible for any change in their condition.”
The channel’s Palestinian affairs correspondent, Ohad Hemo, speculated that the timing of the footage’s release stemmed from three reasons. One possibility is that al-Sayed’s health is indeed worsening, leaving Hamas with a narrowing window to push for a prisoner swap.
Hemo also noted that the footage was released amid growing pressure on Hamas from its prisoners in Israeli jails and their families to do more to release them.
The other possibility is that Hamas is trying to exploit the fragile political situation in Israel, Hemo said.
The network noted reports of a recent offer by Israel to trade hundreds of Palestinian prisoners convicted of terror offenses but not the murder of Israelis in exchange for the bodies and captives being held by Hamas. The terror group rejected the proposal, demanding more in exchange, and talks have since stalled.