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IDF keeps Hamas chiefs locked down over Israelis held in Gaza

Citing 2 captives held by terror group, army denies travel permits for medical care, sisters’ attendance at wedding in Strip

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Ismail Haniyeh, former Hamas prime minister, in the Gaza Strip (Abd Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Ismail Haniyeh, former Hamas prime minister, in the Gaza Strip (Abd Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Israel denied a request by a top Hamas official for his sisters to be permitted to visit the Gaza Strip to take part in a wedding, attributing the decision to the group’s apparent detention of two Israelis.

Hamas’s Gaza political bureau chief and former prime minister Ismail Haniyeh asked Israel on humanitarian grounds to allow his three sisters, all of whom live in a Bedouin community in Israel, to travel to Gaza so they could attend his son’s wedding.

IDF Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who serves as Israel’s de facto military liaison to the Palestinians, said Israel would not take Haniyeh’s humanitarian needs into consideration because Israel’s own “humanitarian issues” in Gaza were not being taken into consideration by Hamas’s leadership — a reference to two Israeli men being held captive in Gaza.

“Just like your son’s wedding is a humanitarian matter, so too Israel has humanitarian issues in Gaza,” Mordechai said in a statement.

The refusal came a day after the Mordechai’s office, formally known as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, turned down a request by Hamas government spokesman Ihab Ghosein to travel via Israel to Jordan for medical care.

COGAT regularly approves travel permits for Gazans into Israel for medical reasons. In 2014, Haniyeh’s daughter was treated in an Israeli hospital just weeks after the end of Operation Protective Edge, which saw IDF troops battling fighters from Hamas and other Palestinian factions in Gaza. Both Haniyeh’s mother-in-law and baby granddaughter have been treated in Israel in the past.

Two Israeli men have been held captive in Gaza for months, a fact that only became public in July after the lifting of a gag order.

Avraham Mengistu, 28, crossed over into the Gaza Strip last September. Israel maintains that he is being held by Hamas, though the Gaza-based terror group has refused to confirm it, and has not publicly issued any demands for his release. Mengistu’s family says he suffers from mental illness.

The second man is described as a young man from the Arab community. Security sources have said he also suffered from psychological issues and had a history of unexpectedly crossing borders into Jordan, Egypt and Gaza. He comes from the Bedouin town of Hura, and is believed to have crossed into Gaza about four months ago near hothouses belonging to Kibbutz Erez, which sits on the Gaza border, the Hebrew-language news site Ynet reported.

Israeli officials have confirmed that Hamas also holds the remains of deceased IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were killed in Gaza during the 2014 fighting.

On Thursday, Hamas’s military wing said it would soon release new information about Goldin to al-Jazeera.

Goldin and Shaul were killed in separate incidents in engagements with Hamas fighters. They were both declared dead based on battlefield evidence, but Hamas has refused to release their bodies to their families.

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