Netanyahu asks Egyptian FM to help free Israelis held in Gaza
Cairo’s top diplomat, Sameh Shoukry, in Jerusalem for talks on Israeli-Palestinian peace, security cooperation
Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.
Egypt’s foreign minister reportedly agreed Sunday to help in efforts to return two Israelis held captive by Hamas in Gaza, as well as the bodies of two soldiers held in Gaza since they died in the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Jerusalem, where the two men discussed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and regional developments, an Israeli diplomatic official said.
Netanyahu brought up the Israelis held in Gaza and asked for Cairo’s help in returning them to Israel. Shoukry responded affirmatively, the official said.
The Israelis held in Gaza both suffer from mental illness, according to their families. Avraham Abera Mengistu wandered into the Strip in 2014. Hisham al-Sayid walked into Gaza in April 2015.
Hamas has said it will only return the bodies of soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul in exchange for an Israeli prisoner release.
It is not clear how much sway Egypt holds over Hamas.
Israeli television reports Sunday suggested Shoukry’s visit was linked to the recent detente agreement with Turkey, which ended a years-long diplomatic standoff with Ankara.
Under the terms of the deal, Israel agreed to ease its blockade of Gaza and allow Turkish aid into the Strip.
Egypt, too, maintains a blockade on its border with Gaza, and accuses Hamas of aiding an Islamic State-affiliated jihadist uprising in the Sinai Peninsula that has claimed the lives of hundreds in recent years.
Israeli analysts have speculated that Shoukry’s visit to Israel, the first by an Egyptian foreign minister in nine years, could be a sign of Cairo’s concern that Israel may loosen the stranglehold on Hamas.
On Thursday, Netanyahu met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in Addis Ababa and asked him for assistance in securing the release of Mengistu.
“We always raise the issue of our citizens at various opportunities, including here, of course,” Netanyahu told reporters after meeting with Desalegn.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.