Hamas says clip of Israeli captive Mengistu is recent; Israel still unsure it’s real

Terror group says prisoners will only be released if Israel pays ‘decent price;’ IDF spokesperson pans ‘unethical’ behavior in publishing video, declines to authenticate it

An undated video published by Hamas on January 16, 2023, purportedly of Israeli captive Avera Mengistu. (Screenshot)
An undated video published by Hamas on January 16, 2023, purportedly of Israeli captive Avera Mengistu. (Screenshot)

The Hamas terror group said Tuesday that a video it released the day before, purportedly of captive Israeli civilian Avera Mengistu, was filmed recently, while Israel publicly maintained its position that it cannot verify if the person in the clip really is the hostage held in the Gaza Strip.

Mengistu is one of two Israeli men being held by the terror group, alongside the remains of two soldiers killed during Israel’s war with Hamas in the summer of 2014. Israeli authorities have been quietly engaged in fruitless negotiations for their release for years.

Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem said the video was made in “recent weeks” and that Israel “will not see its captured soldiers until there is a decent exchange” for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

Hamas has repeatedly falsely referred to Mengistu and the second captive, Hisham al-Sayed, as soldiers. Mengistu was never drafted to the military after being found “not medically fit,” and al-Sayed volunteered in the IDF for three months in 2008 before being discharged after being found “incompatible for service,” according to military documents. The pair were not soldiers when they were captured by Hamas.

The two entered the Strip of their own accord In 2014 and 2015, and their families say they suffer from mental illness.

Meanwhile, IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Ran Kochav told Israeli media that it was still too early to confirm the authenticity of the video clip, adding that its airing by Hamas was a “manipulation” and “unethical and illegal behavior.”

Kochav said the army is still not certain that the person in the clip really is Mengistu.

“I would not like to confirm or deny the level of credibility of this video,” he told the Ynet news outlet and noted that even Mengistu’s own family has some doubts about it.

Avera Mengistu (left) and Hisham al-Sayed. (Flash 90/Courtesy)

Nonetheless, Israeli authorities are said to believe that the video really shows Mengistu.

Channel 13, citing Palestinian sources, said Hamas was expected to send messages to Israel via Egypt soon expressing interest in renewing negotiations over the prisoners. The network assessed that the release of the video indicates that Hamas is eager for a prisoner exchange deal, as in the past it has demanded a price from Israel for any information at all about captives.

Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, said it was releasing the video as a message to outgoing military chief Aviv Kohavi and his successor Herzi Halevi.

In the short clip, a man said to be Mengistu is seen seated, wearing a button-down shirt, fidgeting and crossing his arms as he recites a short message in a low voice.

“I am the captive Avera Mengistu. How long will I be here in captivity, me and my friends,” he is heard mumbling in broken Hebrew in the video.

“After the many years from the pain. Where are the country and the people of Israel from our destiny,” he adds in an unclear, jumbled sentence.

The Prime Minister’s Office issued a brief statement following the publication of the footage, but did not confirm its authenticity.

Mengistu, whose family has said he is mentally unstable, crossed into northern Gaza from the beach at Zikim in 2014. After he entered the coastal enclave, members of the terror group arrested him.

In June 2022, Hamas published a first video of the second Israeli captive, al-Sayed, a Bedouin Israeli who crossed into the Gaza Strip voluntarily in 2015. His family says he also suffers from mental illness.

Aside from the two civilians, Hamas is also holding the remains of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were killed during a 50-day conflict with the terror group in the summer of 2014.

Demonstrators marching with a banner showing the faces of captive Israeli civilian Avera Mengistu, and late soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin from the Israeli city of Ashkelon arrive at the Karmia kibbutz on August 5, 2022. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Israel and Hamas have held indirect talks in an attempt to reach a prisoner exchange deal. A similar deal that released Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from Hamas captivity saw 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners released, many of them convicted terrorists.

Egyptian intelligence, which maintains close ties to both Israel and Hamas, often serves as a key intermediary.

Hamas is considered highly unlikely to concede on the matter of the mass release of Palestinian security prisoners, a highly contentious move that no Israeli government is likely to approve again.

The 2011 exchange to secure the release of Shalit was deeply controversial, with many in Israel’s security establishment at the time calling it lopsided in Hamas’s favor. Many of the prisoners released later returned to terror — including Yahya Sinwar, who now serves as Hamas’s Gaza governor.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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