PM: We Are Doing ‘Everything Possible’ to Bring Home Gaza Captives

Demonstrators hold placards during a protest calling for the release of Avraham Mengistu. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Demonstrators hold placards during a protest calling for the release of Avraham Mengistu. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday that “all efforts were being made to return” missing IDF soldiers, alive or otherwise, who may be held by Hamas in Gaza. “There is a lot of incorrect information out there regarding the deal that is being developed with Turkey,” which families of missing soldiers Hadar Goldin, Oron Shaul and Avraham Mengistu are demanding include provisions for returns of their sons. “We are continuing all our efforts to find and bring home our soldiers. We will not rest until they return home.”

Netanyahu made the comments Sunday during his weekly cabinet meeting, while outside the Prime Minister’s Office the Mengistu family demanded that any arrangements for reconciliation with Turkey that promises Ankara a role in Gaza include the return of their son. Mengistu and a Bedouin-Israeli were captured by Hamas in September 2014, at the end of Operation Protective Edge. Hamas originally claimed that Mengistu had entered Gaza willingly and that he had been released to live as a civilian there, but later confirmed that it was holding him and the second individual.

The Mengistu family, along with the families of missing IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who are presumed dead, have been demanding that the live soldier and the remains of the dead ones be returned as part of the overall reconciliation with Turkey, which is set to be signed this week. As part of the agreement, Israel is allowing Turkey to become more active in Gaza, taking on projects such as the construction of a power plant. The Shauls said at the press conference that the deal represented their best opportunity to retrieve the remains of the soldiers. The reconciliation deal is set to be approved by both Israel and Turkey, on Sunday, and is likely to be signed this week.

Over the weekend, Herzl and Zahava Shaul, parents of missing IDF soldier Oron Shaul, called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu not to sign any deals with Turkey until arrangements are made for the return of the their son Oron, along with Hadar Goldin. “Before you sign, before you decide, think about us,” they said, addressing Netanyahu. “We have been waiting for two years. Think about the Goldin family and the Shaul family. This is our opportunity to bring our sons home.”

The two soldiers went missing during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, when witnesses saw their bodies dragged through the opening of a Hamas terror tunnel. The two were definitely killed in battle, the IDF said, but earlier this month their status was redefined and they were declared as also being “missing in action and in captivity.” Hamas is believed to be holding at least some of the remains of both soldiers. Other remains were buried in 2014 in state funerals.

At Sunday’s rally, members of the Mengistu family and supporters decried the ongoing captivity of Avraham, and the apparent lack of concern on the part of the government and media in getting him released, a sharp contrast to the concern shown for IDF soldiers Gilad Shalit several years ago. “We have been waiting for a year and nine months for the government to do something and return Avraham, as they promised to do,” said Ilan Mengistu, Avraham’s brother. “Unfortunately, this deal with Turkey makes it appear as if we were fooled.” Mengistu called on Netanyahu to “stand up straight and demand the return of our brother. How can the government provide humanitarian aid to Gaza while leaving Avraham, who was not well, without help?”

In a statement, Hamas said Sunday that the matter of the missing Israeli soldiers had not been raised by Turkey in any of its talks with Ankara.