Former British prime minister Tony Blair has been acting as a go-between in discussions between Israel and Hamas over the release of two Israelis held captive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, according to reports.
A Hamas source told the Russian news outlet Sputnik that Blair, who more recently has served as peace envoy for the Middle East Quartet, met in recent days with Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal and other top officials.
Two Israelis, Avraham Mengistu and a second unnamed Bedouin captive, have been held in Gaza for months. A court-imposed gag order on the story was lifted Thursday following a court petition by two Israeli media outlets.
Israeli sources would not confirm the news, except to deny previous reports that Egyptian or German officials were serving as mediators. Egypt helped mediate the last major negotiation between Israel and Hamas over the release of IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Mengistu family on Friday for the first time since Avraham disappeared into the Gaza Strip last September.
Israel has said it expects Hamas to release the captives on humanitarian grounds and has indicated it will not release any prisoners in exchange for the two, who apparently crossed into the Palestinian enclave of their own accord.
The publication of the news Thursday has sparked criticism of the government’s handling of the case.