Yaalon: Prisoner Exchange Not on the Table

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon ends speculation, says Israel will do everything to free Israelis held by Hamas - but no terrorist release.

Ari Soffer ,

Avraham Mengistu
Avraham Mengistu
Courtesy of the family

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon has said unequivocally that Israel will not be freeing convicted terrorists in return for two Israelis currently being held in Gaza.

"Two mentally ill Israelis - God forbid - entered Gaza. We took every humanitarian action in order to free them, while maintaining a low profile - but freeing terrorists is not on the agenda," Yaalon said.

Two Israelis are believed held in Gaza by Hamas, after entering the Islamist-controlled territory of their own accord. One has been identified as 26-year-old Avraham Mengistu, who has a history of mental illness and whose family recently made an emotional appeal for his release after a court overturned a gag order on the case.

Mengistu has been in Hamas captivity for 10 months.

A second Israeli - a Bedouin resident of the Negev in southern Israel - is also being held in Gaza, although his identity, current status and the precise details of his capture are still under a gag order.

Israel has in the past agreed to increasingly lopsided deals, in which hundreds of convicted terrorists - many of them multiple-murderers - have been released from prison in exchange for a single Israel soldier or civilian, or even the bodies of soldiers killed in battle and seized as bargaining chips by terrorist groups.

However, Israelis have become increasingly disillusioned with the policy - which reached its height in the 2011 Shalit Deal, under which Israel released more than 1,000 terrorists in exchange for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit - particularly since most terrorists released under such deals quickly resume terrorist activities.

Terror victims rights groups and bereaved families have consistently decried the policy as a perversion of justice and an insult to the memory of the victims of terrorism.

Yaalon's comments come after other MKs and even senior ministers voiced their opposition to any further prisoner exchanges.