Report: Cease-fire Talks May Lead to Return of Israeli Captives, Bodies of IDF Soldiers Held by Hamas

The bodies of Israeli soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, and civilans Hisham al-Sayed and Avera Mengistu are being held by Hamas as bargaining chips

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A photo of a poster calling for the return of the bodies of soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, as well as captive Avera Mengistu in 2020.
A photo of a poster calling for the return of the bodies of soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, as well as captive Avera Mengistu in 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Hamas may repatriate several longtime Israeli captives in exchange for Jerusalem allowing the passage of goods and funds into Gaza to resume, sources familiar with backchannel negotiations to end the latest round of fighting have told the New York Times.

A senior Israeli official said that a truce with Hamas will strive to include the return of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, as well as two Israeli civillians, Hisham al-Sayed and Avera Mengistu, who are being held captive in the enclave, the Times reported on Thursday.

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In addition, the official said that Israel and Hamas are expected to reach a cease-fire agreement within two days. Two other Israeli officials confirmed this.   

According to the Israeli officials, such an agreement will also include the halting of Israeli attacks on Hamas infrastructure, as well as Israel' attempts to assassinate Hamas senior officials.

Hamas, for its part, would agree to stop firing rockets at Israeli communities. The Israeli officials added, according to the Times, that Jerusalem is demanding that Hamas halt the digging of attack tunnels and violent demonstrations along the Gaza border.

Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul were killed during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in the summer of 2014 and their bodies have since been held by Hamas as bargaining chips. 

Both the Goldin and Shaul families have long been critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for failing to secure the return of their son’s bodies. On Wednesday, Aviram Shaul demanded that the IDF not stop fighting until Hamas released his brother’s body.

Mengistu, a 28-year old Ashkelon resident with mental health issues, crossed the border into Gaza on September 7, 2014. He was known to have suffered psychological problems in the past, and may have been drinking on the day of his disappearance.

Hisham al-Sayed, a Bedouin man from the Negev town of Hura, entered Gaza via the Erez Crossing in April 2015. His father, Sha’aban al-Sayeed, told Haaretz in 2016 that Hisham had “ran away twice before to the Gaza Strip and they would give him back.”

Mengistu and al-Sayeed’s plight were largely unknown by the wider Israeli public until July 2015, when a long-standing gag order was lifted following a request from Haaretz.

The Mengistu family has long been critical of the state for its low-key response, saying the matter would have been handled differently if Avera, who is an Ethiopian Jew, were white. 

Speaking with Haaretz in 2015, Mengistu’s brother Yalo asserted that if a white person had wandered into the Gaza Strip, the state's response would have been completely different. 

“It’s more than racism – I call it ‘anti-Blackism,’” he said. “I am one million percent certain that if he were white, we would not have come to a situation like this.”

On Thursday morning, Israel Electric Corporation employees announced they would not repair the power lines damaged in Israeli strikes in Gaza until Hamas returns Goldin, Shaul and Mengistu. Their statement did not mention al-Sayeed.

“The IEC workers' organization has embraced the Goldin, Shaul and Mengistu families for several years and when we have heard their pain and their story we were looking for any way to help them,” explained David (Miko) Zarfati, chairman of the IEC workers' committee.

“God forgive me if I make mistakes, but I can not be silent. Electricity company workers endanger themselves and repair the lines that fall as a result of the bombs coming from Gaza and do so even under fire and connect any place that is hit even when they hear that it has fallen in an open area,” he added.

The IEC responded that while it was “a state company” and considered “electricity is an essential product outside of the conflict,” it hoped that "the boys are brought home."

Weighing in, Yamina MK Idit Silman said that she believed that it was “unfortunate” that “in the midst of a campaign against Hamas in Gaza, Israeli citizens are showing national responsibility and are even willing to pay a personal price for it, while the State of Israel continues to stutter.”

If an IEC employee is called to a disciplinary hearing for refusing to repair the damaged lines, she would accompany him to provide support, the lawmaker stated.

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