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UN chief calls for safe return of missing Israelis

Ban Ki-moon urges Palestinians with info on two Israelis who entered Gaza and disappeared to come forward

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on July 13, 2015. (Tony Karumba/AFP)
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on July 13, 2015. (Tony Karumba/AFP)

UNITED NATIONS — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on Palestinians in Gaza with knowledge of two missing Israeli civilians to provide information about their possible whereabouts and conditions.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Monday the secretary-general was also calling for prompt action to facilitate their safe return to their families.

Dujarric said Ban “underscores the responsibility of all parties to protect and respect the rights of civilians,” and will continue to closely monitor developments.

Defense officials have identified one of the men as Avraham Mengistu, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent in his late 20s who “independently” entered Gaza on September 7, 2014, two weeks after the end of the war with Hamas in the territory. The second man was an unidentified Bedouin citizen from southern Israel.

Avraham Mengistu, 28, who Israel believes is being held captive by Hamas. (Facebook)
Avraham Mengistu, 28, who Israel believes is being held captive by Hamas. (Facebook)

According to a Channel 2 report Monday night, Israel negotiated months ago with Hamas for the release of the two, but the terror group attempted to deceive soldiers and hand over an Eritrean national instead, .

Several weeks after Mengistu, 28, was captured by Hamas after crossing into the coastal enclave last September, the Israel Defense Forces held secret talks with Hamas to free Mengistu on humanitarian grounds.

Hamas agreed to hand over “the Ethiopian” — as they referred to Mengitsu. However, on the day of the exchange, Hamas tried to pass off an Eritrean national, who had crossed into Gaza seeking employment, as Mengistu.

The IDF soldiers realized the captive was not Mengistu and prevented the Eritrean from entering Israel, the report said.

Hamas has refused to confirm whether it is holding Mengistu and has not made any demands in exchange for his release. A senior Palestinian official based in the Gaza Strip denied that the group was holding the young man. According to the official, Mengistu was briefly held by the group but was released a short while later after Hamas interrogators determined he was not a soldier. The official further claimed that the Israeli left the coastal strip via a tunnel to Sinai, apparently in an attempt to reach Ethiopia.

At a rally in Gaza City last Wednesday, however, Hamas displayed a huge model fist holding a mock-up of fallen soldier Oron Shaul’s ID card and two other army IDs with question marks on them, implying that it holds two Israeli soldiers captive (Mengistu, who is said to be suffering from unspecified mental issues, was not accepted for IDF service).

Israel has made clear that it holds Hamas ultimately responsible for the welfare and safety of the two citizens.

Senior Israeli officials have also made clear that there will be no Palestinian prisoners exchanged for the two missing Israelis, and that it is treating both cases as a humanitarian issue. According to Channel 2, this decision has been conveyed to the families of the two men.

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