Netanyahu Vows to Return Abducted Citizens

Prime Minister says he expects the international community to issue 'a clear call' for release of Avraham Mengistu and Bedouin citizen.

Uzi Baruch, | updated: 20:44

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
Amit Shabi/POOL/Flash 90

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Thursday that Israel is "working to return the two Israelis who crossed the fence into Gaza."

"We hold Hamas responsible for their welfare," he stated. "I have appointed a representative to coordinate all activity on the issue and to be in contact with the families.

"Yesterday I spoke with the parents and siblings of Avraham Mengistu and I told them that from as soon as the incident became known we have spared no effort to return him to Israel. We agreed to meet soon."

Netanyahu also echoed calls by Mengistu's family for the international community to intervene to free the two Israeli civilians.

"I expect the international community, which expresses its concern over the humanitarian situation in Gaza, to issue a clear call for these citizens to be released and to see to their return," he said.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who returned Thursday from a working visit to Italy, also addressed the abductions.

"Two Israeli citizens are in the Gaza strip, in the hands of Hamas,” he said. “The state of Israel is making great efforts to return them to their families. We see Hamas as being responsible for their fate and demand their return.”

"I met with the family of Avera Mengistu, I updated them on our actions and told them to be strong. We are also in touch with the family of the second Israeli who is being held in the Strip and updating it about developments.”

It was released for publication Thursday that Avraham (Avera) Mengistu, 26, an Israeli citizen of Ethiopian origin, crossed the border into Gaza in September. The IDF spotted him and attempted to stop him before he made it into Gaza, but he ran across the border before he could be apprehended; Hamas arrested him upon his arrival.

Hamas took Mengistu to a hiding place and passed on information to his family shortly thereafter. The Defense Ministry determined that Mengistu crossed the fence due to mental illness and that the move was not in any way a deliberate security risk.

The Israel Security Agency (ISA or Shin Bet) determined, as well, that Mengistu was prone to disappear from home for long stretches of time without contacting his family. On at least three occasions, his family reported his disappearances to police; social services in Ashkelon were aware of the situation.

Mengistu has eight siblings; his father lives in central Israel and his mother lives in Ashkelon.

Israeli officials stated Thursday that Mengistu's status remains unknown; however, a Hamas official has reportedly said that the Israeli was not being held by Hamas for collateral for terror releases, as is the norm, because he is not an IDF soldier. The official claimed he was actually released months ago into Gaza civilian life but has not been seen or heard from since.

Israel has turned to both international and regional bodies to determine Mengistu's condition and demand that Hamas release him to Israel immediately.

A second citizen, an Israeli Arab from the Bedouin village of Hura, is also being held by Hamas. His case has also been under gag order until now in Israel, although several Arabic outlets have been reporting on the situation for months.