US President Donald Trump’s peace envoy toured the area around the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, and called on Hamas to release the bodies of two IDF soldiers and a number of Israeli citizens the terror group is holding.
“I again call upon Hamas to return the IDF soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were taken by Hamas, and I call on Hamas to release the Israeli civilians they are holding — Avraham Abera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed and Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima,” Jason Greenblatt said.
He was accompanied on his tour by the IDF general responsible for coordinating civilian affairs in the West Bank and Gaza, who said Israel will not “enable significant development” in the coastal enclave until Hamas, which controls Gaza, releases the bodies of the soldiers.
“The mission of returning the missing IDF soldiers has yet to be completed and we will not enable significant development in the Strip without a solution,” Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj-Gen Yoav Mordechai said.
The issue of the bodies of the missing soldiers and Israeli citizens again become an issue of national debate in the past week following the resignation of Lior Lotan, who was appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to oversee efforts to come to an agreement with Hamas.
The Palestinian group has been holding the bodies of Goldin and Shaul since the two were killed in the Gaza Strip during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. The terror group is also believed to be holding Mengistu, al-Sayed and Abu Ghanima — who are all said to have entered Gaza on their own accord.
During his tour of the Gaza area, Greenblatt visited Kerem Shalom, the main crossing through which goods are transferred from Israel to the Strip, as well as the Erez civilian crossing, where he spoke with Palestinian residents of Gaza.
“Today I visited the Gaza border region and learned a great deal about the difficult challenges facing the IDF, Israelis living in surrounding areas and the Palestinians living in Gaza as a result of Hamas’s mismanagement of humanitarian aid and its commitment to terrorist violence,” Greenblatt said.
“It is clear that the Palestinian Authority needs to resume its role in the administration of Gaza as Hamas has substantially harmed the people of Gaza and has failed to meet their most basic needs,” he added.
The Palestinian Authority ruled Gaza until 2007, when Hamas took over the Strip from PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction. Since then, Israel has fought three wars against Hamas in response to its firing of thousands of rockets at Israeli population centers.
Greenblatt also toured a cross-border Hamas attack tunnel with Mordechai, who criticized the terror group for pouring resources into its military arm rather than seeking to improve the humanitarian conditions for Gaza residents.
“One kilometer of a tunnel like this costs an estimated two hundred thousand dollars. For the same amount hospitals can be built in the Gaza Strip instead of tunnels, but Hamas’s priorities are first the military branches’ interests and terror and only then, as a low priority, supporting the civilian population,” Mordechai said.