Israel has asked Egypt for information on the health of an Israeli man held by Hamas after the terror group announced that the condition of one of its prisoners had deteriorated, according to a report in the Al-Quds newspaper on Tuesday.
Citing anonymous sources, the Palestinian newspaper said senior Egyptian officials informed Israel of Cairo’s willingness to leverage the changing situation to achieve “a new breakthrough” in the matter.
The terror group currently holds two living Israelis — Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed — as well as the bodies of two Israeli soldiers: Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin.
Israel has worked to secure the return of the two living men and the two bodies via a prisoner exchange deal with the terror group. Egyptian intelligence, which maintains close ties to both Israel and Hamas, often serves as the key intermediary.
Mengistu and al-Sayed both 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.
Abu Obeida, the spokesperson for Hamas’s military wing, in an unusual statement Monday, did not specify whether Mengistu or al-Sayed were suffering from health issues, nor how serious they were. He vowed that Hamas would publish proof of its claims within hours, but the terror group had yet to do that as of Tuesday afternoon.
In a statement, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office neither confirmed or disputed the Hamas claims. Instead, it said it holds Hamas accountable for the state of the captured civilians.
“Hamas proved again tonight that it is a cynical and criminal terrorist organization, which holds mentally ill civilians in violation of all international conventions and laws, as well as the bodies of fallen Israeli soldiers,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said.
“The State of Israel will continue its efforts, mediated by Egypt, to bring the captives and the missing back home,” the PMO said.
Israeli military correspondents, who are regularly briefed off-the-record by senior Israeli officials, reported that the announcement was “psychological warfare.”
But retired Israeli general Moshe Tal, who previously served as the army’s chief official on hostages, said on Tuesday morning that he believed Hamas’s statement was genuine.
“My instinct tells me that this is a serious announcement as regards [the health] of one of the two civilians,” Tal said in an interview with Kan public radio.
“We’ve had eight years in which these two sick civilians have been held without access to proper health care. This can easily lead to a deterioration in their condition,” speculated Tal.
Israel and Hamas have held indirect talks in an attempt to reach a prisoner exchange deal. A similar deal to release Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from Hamas’s clutches saw 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners released, many of them convicted terrorists.