Human Rights Watch on Wednesday condemned the “illegal” detention of two Israeli citizens by Hamas, releasing new details about the men who are believed to be mentally ill.
The Islamist terror group, which runs Gaza, is believed to have been holding Hisham al-Sayed and Avraham Mengistu since April 2015 and September 2014, respectively, after they sneaked into the blockaded Palestinian enclave.
Both men suffer from serious mental health issues, the HRW report said.
Hamas media has claimed the two were soldiers, but HRW said Mengistu was rejected by the Israel Defense Forces on medical grounds and Sayed was discharged after a few months of service.
HRW said a third Israeli citizen, Jumaa Abu Ghanima, entered Gaza in July 2016, but there is no further information on him and it is unclear if he was arrested or joined a militant group.
— Sari Bashi (@saribashi) May 3, 2017
Hamas has never officially confirmed it is holding Sayed and Mengistu, but videos it has published on social media have included their images.
The group, which took control of Gaza in 2007, has not released any details on their condition or allowed rights groups to visit them.
Israel bans its nationals from entering Gaza for security reasons.
HRW said Hamas is demanding the release of a number of its members from Israeli jails before it will publish information about the men.
On Tuesday, it released a video containing interviews with family members of Mengistu and Sayed:
“No demand can justify disappearing and bartering over the lives of men, particularly those with serious mental health conditions,” said Omar Shakir, HRW director for Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Shakir said Hamas should either release the men or provide evidence of their alleged crimes.
“While they are being detained they must treat them humanely and provide them with contact with their families,” he told AFP.
Sayed’s father, Sha’aban, said his son, a Bedouin Muslim, has schizophrenia and had previously disappeared to Jordan and even Gaza multiple times, eventually being returned by the authorities.
“We just want to ask Hamas why are they holding him? What is the reason?” he told AFP.
“They say he is a soldier, an officer, in the Israeli army. This is a lie.”
Hamas did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for comment.
HRW said Mengistu, an Israeli Jew of Ethiopian descent, climbed over a fence along the Gaza-Israel border to enter the enclave.
Sayed is believed to have walked across a relatively open area of the heavily fortified border.
Last year, old images of the two men appeared in a Hamas video along with pictures of two soldiers who Hamas claims were captured alive during its 2014 war with Israel.
The IDF determined that the two soldiers — Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin — were killed, but that Hamas is holding their bodies.
In 2011 Israel exchanged more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a soldier Hamas had detained for five years.
On Tuesday, the organization gave Israel 24 hours to accede to the demands issued by hundreds of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners, warning that otherwise it would increase its own demands for a future prisoner exchange with the Jewish state.
For each day the standoff between Israel and the Palestinian inmates held in Israeli jails continues, the terror group said, it will add the names of 30 prisoners to the list of detainees it wants released in a future swap deal.
Israeli officials have said they will not negotiate with the prisoners.
HRW’s Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir made headlines on February 24 when Israeli authorities refused to grant him a work permit, accusing his organization of engaging in Palestinian “propaganda.”
The Interior Ministry reversed its decision in late April, granting Shakir a one-year work visa.