Israel asked Hamas about Avera Mengistu last August, while the war with Gaza was still on, although the government said he crossed into the Gaza Strip in September, after a truce had been reached, a senior Hamas official said on Thursday.
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Mengistu, a 28-year-old Israeli of Ethiopian descent, has been missing since last September, when he evidently crossed the border into the Gaza Strip. Though missing for over 10 months, news of his disappearance shocked the public, which was left in the dark due to a court-imposed gag order on the case.
Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy chairman of Hamas’ political bureau, reiterated the demand that Israel release 54 prisoners who had been freed in the Shalit deal and then imprisoned again, as a condition to negotiate over Mengistu and another missing Israeli, an unnamed Bedouin young man who crossed into Gaza in April and is presumed to be held by Hamas.
In an interview with Al Jazeera’s website, Abu Marzouk said, “That Mengistu, whom the [Israelis] say is mentally disturbed, they spoke about him already in the negotiations in Cairo (the Egyptian-brokered Israel-Hamas talks that led to the truce that went into effect on August 26).”
“They told us that Mengistu entered the Al-Sudaniya region in the northern sector and asked us to return him because he is mentally disturbed. How can we believe that a man in uniform and is mad can walk across 40 kilometers and escape from the Be’er Sheva area to enter the Gaza Strip from the northern sector?” Abu Marzouk said.
Abu Marzouk disclosed no details of Mengistu’s whereabouts or condition. “There’s no reason for us to say anything about this issue because there will be no information without a price and no possibility of negotiating unless Israel undertakes to have negotiations on the issue and respects that,” he said.
Abu Marzouk said there was no reason for imprisoning the 54 men, who were guilty of nothing apart from having been freed in the Shalit deal.
“So far there has been no mediation on the prisoners from any German or other official and no talks have been held,” he said.
The Mengistu family denied Abu Marzouk’s comment regarding the missing man’s uniform and said he had not served in the IDF.
As for his mental state, Mengistu’s brother Yalo told Haaretz about a month ago that Avera had been hospitalized a number of times in mental institutions in the south, at doctors’ instructions. He had also been treated with medicine for a long time, he said.
However, in the months before he crossed the border he stopped taking his pills, saying they weren’t helping.
Mengistu’s health waned four years ago after his brother died of an illness, his brother said.