Official Negotiating for Return of Israeli Captives, Soldiers’ Bodies From Hamas Resigns

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Lior Lotan, September 2016.
Lior Lotan, September 2016. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The government official tasked with trying to obtain the return of captive and missing Israelis from the Gaza Strip resigned on Thursday, after three years in office.

Lior Lotan, who reported directly to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, spearheaded efforts to retrieve both Israeli civilians thought to be held by Hamas in the Strip and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers who died there.

“Lotan told the prime minister the job was very demanding on both the professional and human level, and therefore its occupant should be replaced every few years,” Netanyahu’s bureau said in a statement. “The prime minister has instructed his military secretary, Brig. Gen. Eliezer Toledano, to handle this issue for the near future.”

People familiar with Lotan’s efforts said he decided to resign both because he recently concluded that the indirect talks with Hamas had hit a dead end and because the government had granted him very little room to maneuver on the issue.

The statement by Netanyahu’s bureau said that over the past three years Lotan had held dozens of contacts with foreign officials on the matter. It quoted Lotan as saying that during this period, he was exposed “to Hamas’ cruelty and cynicism on the issue of the captives and the missing. Therefore, we worked to raise awareness of this among the international community.”

The Goldin family, whose son Hadar is one of the two fallen soldiers from 2014’s Operation Protective Edge whose bodies Hamas is thought to be holding, issued a statement saying Lotan’s resignation made them feel they had been “abandoned by the government,” and especially by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

“We want to thank Lior Lotan for the strenuous work he did on a volunteer basis over the past three years,” the Goldins’ statement said. “Following Lior’s resignation, we feel we have been abandoned by the government.

“Lotan’s resignation isn’t surprising, given recent events. Behind the words ‘The government is doing everything possible to return Hadar and Oron’ lies a wretched reality in which nothing has been done to bring the boys home,” the statement continued, referring to Oron Shaul, the other fallen soldier whose body is thought to be held by Hamas.

“We demand that Netanyahu and Lieberman appoint a replacement urgently, implement the security cabinet decisions made last January, and pressure Hamas in every possible and effective way to return our sons to Israel,” the statement concluded.

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