Family of Israeli Held by Hamas in Gaza Asks U.S. Officials to Speed Up Release

Since Avera Mengistu crossed into Gaza on foot in 2014, his family has been working to increase international pressure for his release

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Protesters call for Avera Mengistu's release in Tel Aviv, Sep 3, 2017
Protesters call for Avera Mengistu's release in Tel Aviv, Sep 3, 2017Credit: Moti Milrod
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON - The family of Avera Mengistu, an Israeli citizen being held by Hamas in Gaza, met on Wednesday and Thursday with senior officials in the Trump administration and with prominent members of Congress, and asked them to increase international pressure on Hamas to release him. 

Mengistu crossed the border between Israel and Gaza on foot in September 2014. He was immediately detained by Hamas, and has been in the organization's hands ever since. Media outlets in Israel have reported that Mengistu suffered in the past from psychological difficulties, and that he was hospitalized and had to use psychiatric medications. Israeli officials have publicly accused Hamas of holding Mengistu in Gaza against his will. 

Mengistu's family emigrated from Ethiopia to Israel when he was a child, and settled in the city of Ashkelon. The family has been actively working to create pressure on Hamas for his release for the last three years. This week, Mengistu's parents and siblings met with senior officials in the Trump administration, hoping this will be able to create a breakthrough for Avera. 

On Wednesday, Trump's special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Jason Greenblatt, met the family at the White House. A senior White House official told Haaretz that Mengistu's mother, Agarnesh, expressed her "bewilderment" that international organizations such as the Red Cross "are not doing more to pressure Hamas to release her son." The official added that this was the family's second meeting with Greenblatt, who also met them during one of his trips to Israel over the summer. 

Greenblatt wrote on his Twitter account after the meeting that "Avera has been held by Hamas in Gaza for over 1,000 days since he disappeared in September, 2014. It is outrageous that Hamas will not let him return home or communicate with his family." 

On Thursday, the family met with members of Congress from both parties, including Rep. Ed Royce, a Republican from California and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat from Florida and the ranking member on the sub-committee for the Middle East and North Africa; and Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat from California. All three were asked to use their influence to increase international pressure on Hamas on this issue, by means such as encouraging other countries to demand Mengistu's release, and demanding action from international organizations. 

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