Hamas says ‘real opportunity’ for prisoner swap if Israel gets serious

Spokesman claims Netanyahu government hasn’t inquired into well-being of Ethiopian-Israeli captive Mengistu, in apparent effort to poke at recent racial tensions in Jewish state

Left to right: Oron Shaul, Hadar Goldin and Avraham Mengistu. (Flash90/The Times of Israel)
Left to right: Oron Shaul, Hadar Goldin and Avraham Mengistu. (Flash90/The Times of Israel)

Hamas’s military wing claimed Tuesday that there is a “real opportunity” to reach an agreement with Israel in which the terror group would return two fallen IDF soldiers and a pair of Israeli civilians who have been held captive in the Gaza Strip for five years.

“We affirm that there is a real opportunity to resolve the issue of the prisoners and missing persons if the leadership of the enemy is serious in opening and advancing this file and paying the natural price through the clear path that led to the resolution of similar issues in the past,” said Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades spokesman Abu Obeida in a speech broadcast on Facebook Live.

“We warn that this file could be subject to being forgotten or completely closed for reasons that the enemy knows well,” Abu Obeida added.

The Hamas official’s remarks came as Israel marked the five year anniversary of the 2014 war in Gaza, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, in which IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul were killed and captured by the terror group.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin each spoke at an official state ceremony, asserting that the government is doing everything it can to return Goldin and Shaul, as well as civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who both crossed into Gaza of their own accord in 2014 and 2015, respectively, with their families saying they suffer from mental illness.

Abu Obeida, the spokesman of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing gives a video statement on July 23, 2019. (Screen capture/Facebook)

“I cannot elaborate here [publicly] on everything we are doing, but we are doing a great deal,” Netanyahu said of the efforts to return the captive soldiers and civilians.

However, the ceremony was boycotted by Goldin and Shaul’s parents, who held an alternative memorial along with supporters in the parking lot outside Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl where the official observance was being held. The bereaved parents have expressed frustration with Netanyahu in recent weeks, claiming he “hasn’t done anything” to return their sons.

“I bow my head in the face of bereavement and pain, and remain committed to my duty as prime minister to perceive the overall considerations,” Netanyahu added, hinting that he is required to take into account security implications when negotiating for the release of captives.

However, the prime minister said that his government has a proven record in refusing to neglect captive soldiers, citing the return of Zachary Baumel, who went missing in the 1982 Battle of Sultan Yacoub against the Syrian army in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

Unconvinced by Netanyahu’s earnestness, Goldin’s brother Tzur tweeted, “Give me a break. Five years without a real effort, and that’s what you have to say to the citizens of Israel? Confidentiality on the subject of captivity = disrespect and silencing [the response] to [your] neglect.”

Speaking at their protest ceremony outside Mount Herzl, Goldin’s father Simcha said he had great respect for the president and chief of staff but could not participate in the official memorial “in the face of this failure of the prime minister.”

The Goldins were also angered by Netanyahu’s office calling them last week to requesting an urgent meeting, leading them to believe a breakthrough had been achieved. At the meeting they were asked to attend a UN ceremony to raise awareness for their son’s captivity. The bereaved parents refused and Goldin’s mother Leah left the meeting in the middle, distraught.

Bereaved parents of Hadar Goldin and other family members and supporters gather outside the state memorial ceremony for Operation Protective Edge at Mount Herzl on July 23, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Addressing the families of the captives in his Tuesday speech, the Hamas Brigades spokesman warned them not to trust Netanyahu nor those who had served as defense minister, IDF chief of staff and chief military rabbi during the 2014 war.

“You must first think carefully and ask Netanyahu, [Moshe] Ya’alon and [Benny] Gantz where they left your sons and how they neglected them? You must ask Rafi Peretz, the chief rabbi of the army at the time, how he misled you with specific information in the service of cheap political goals,” Abu Obeida said, though he did not provide an explanation.

The Hamas official said that Israel seeks to “justify its neglect” of Goldin and Shaul by saying “they are corpses and remains.”

“If this hypothesis is correct, why have they not taken the initiative to achieve the dream of their families to bring back these corpses, knowing that the price they will have to pay for corpses is a modest one in comparison with living persons.”

In an apparent effort to poke at racial tensions in the Jewish state, recently exacerbated by the deadly shooting of an unarmed Ethiopian-Israeli teen by a police officer, the Hamas military brigade spokesman claimed that Israel has not even inquired into the well-being of Mengistu, who is of Ethiopian descent.

“The greatest example of the procrastination and the lying of the enemy’s government and military leadership is the issue of the missing person in Gaza Mengistu, the Jew who is of Ethiopian origins. We affirm that the occupation did not raise his issue with the mediators at all,” said Abu Obeida. “The leadership of the enemy did not attempt to ask about whether Mengistu is dead or alive.”

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