The parents of a soldier killed in action during last year’s war in the Gaza Strip, and whose remains are held by Hamas, said Monday night they expected Israel’s leaders to make a greater effort to bring back their son for burial.
IDF soldier Oron Shaul was killed in Gaza during last summer’s 50-day military campaign Operation Protective Edge. His remains, along with those of a second soldier, Hadar Goldin, are believed to be held by the terror group, which seeks to use them as a bargaining chip.
Shaul’s family said it was being kept in the dark on the progress of efforts to return the bodies.
“We have a feeling at the moment that Oron has been forgotten,” his father Herzl told Channel 2 News. “We never forget him. At all the meetings we’ve been to we’ve received the same promises that they’ll bring back Oron, we don’t know when. It keeps repeating itself, the same statements that Oron will come home.”
As Israel marks the annual Memorial Day for fallen soldiers on Tuesday, Herzl said the family had no grave to visit. “Other families have someplace to go. Oron is still in the hands of Hamas.”
Oron’s mother Zehava warned that the family patience would not last indefinitely, and that they would resort to public pressure on the government if need be.
“We’ll see how long we can hold on, because…every day that passes is much worse than the day that came before, and you get up in the morning and ask ‘What have I done for Oron? I haven’t done anything,’ so how long can you keep it up?” she said. “If there are no results we’ll have to come forward (publicly).”
Hamas on Monday sent an indirect message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reminding him that it still holds the remains of the two soldiers, in an apparent attempt to take advantage of Memorial Day.
The Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV channel broadcast a quote by an unnamed Hamas leader that said “Netanyahu needs to do a careful check of his soldiers and to stop misleading the families of the missing soldiers,” Israel’s Channel 2 reported. A similar message was published on the Hamas website.
Al-Aqsa TV explained that the move was aimed at psychological warfare and added that Hamas may have some “surprises” concerning the missing soldiers, but didn’t offer any further details.
The two soldiers were killed in separate incidents. They were both declared dead based on evidence the army acquired, but their bodies were never recovered by Israel.
On July 20, 2014, Shaul was one of seven Israeli soldiers critically wounded when, amid fierce battles in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City, his armored personnel carrier, stuck in the middle of a city street, was hit by a Hamas anti-tank rocket.
The army was able to recover the remains of only six soldiers. There was no trace of Shaul.
On August 1, 2014, Goldin was killed in a surprise attack as a temporary ceasefire during the 7-week conflict was due to begin, and his body was dragged into a tunnel.
On Sunday night Ruhi Mushtaha, a senior Hamas official who was released from prison as part of a deal that secured freedom for kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, said “Hamas will not reveal anything about the fate of the soldiers missing in Gaza without a price,” indicating that Hamas intends to use the missing soldiers as bargaining chips with Israel.
In the past Israel has only negotiated directly with President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, not with the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip.
Earlier this month the London-based al-Araby al-Jadeed reported Israel had requested that European officials serve as mediators in negotiations with Hamas over the soldiers’ remains.
The Gilad Shalit prisoner swap, in which Israel freed 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the IDF soldier held captive by Hamas for five years, took place in October 2011. A portion of the freed Palestinian prisoners reverted to terror activities soon after their release.