Israeli Officials, Experts, Reject Al Jazeera Broadcast as ‘Cheap Stunt’
Hamas releases alleged recording of captive Israeli
Officials in Jerusalem on Monday dismissed as a “cheap stunt” the previous night’s Al Jazeera report in which a recording, allegedly of an Israeli held captive by Hamas in Gaza, was played for the first time.
Hamas is in a desperate state following the difficult blows it endured during the Guardian of the Walls operation
“Hamas is in a desperate state following the difficult blows it endured during the Guardian of the Walls operation,” Yaron Blum, Israel’s chief negotiator for the release of Israelis held in Gaza, said on Monday, referring to last month’s mini-war with the Islamist movement. Hamas calls the recent violence the Sword of Jerusalem Battle.
Blum added that the group was attempting “a transparent and cheap manipulation.”
“Israel is well aware of the situation [of its prisoners, and will] continue operating determinedly and responsibly to bring the boys home,” Blum, a fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism and a former longtime member of the Shin Bet security agency, said.
At the 51-minute mark of the nearly hour-long report on Israeli captives in Gaza, a 30-second audio clip is presented, in which an unidentified man speaks several sentences in broken Hebrew.
“I’m an Israeli soldier held hostage by the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades [Hamas’ military wing]. I wonder and hope Israel still exists, and if so, if its leaders remember their captured soldiers and work for their release. I die anew every day. … Please help,” a voice can be heard saying.
Two Israeli are being held by Hamas: Avera Mengistu, who was exempted from mandatory military service in the Israel Defense Forces after a medical committee found him unfit for service, and Hisham al-Sayed, who volunteered to serve in 2008 but was deemed unsuitable after three months.
I can say unequivocally that’s not my son’s voice
Agranash Mengistu, the mother of Avera Mengistu, on Monday said she was certain the man speaking on the recording is not her son.
“I can say unequivocally that’s not my son’s voice,” she wrote in a statement sent to The Media Line. “I’m waiting for him and hope to see him soon like I was promised this whole time.”
Avera’s brother also said it was not Avera, based on both the speaker’s accent and his vocabulary.
Shaaban al-Sayed, Hisham al-Sayed’s father, also said the speaker was not his son.
During the hour-long feature, Al Jazeera also showed never before seen video recordings of an imprisoned Gilad Schalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas in 2006 and released in a 2011 in exchange for more than a thousand mainly Palestinian and Arab Israeli militants.
Their interest is to ‘tease’ the Israeli public so that the topic will dominate the discourse, create empathy and perhaps press the decision-makers into restarting negotiations, thereby improving Hamas’ position
“It’s a pretty clumsy and obvious manipulation,” David Meidan, a former intelligence official and Israel’s chief negotiator during the Schalit transaction, told The Media Line.
“Their interest is to ‘tease’ the Israeli public so that the topic will dominate the discourse, create empathy and perhaps press the decision-makers into restarting negotiations, thereby improving Hamas’ position,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say they’re desperate, but they definitely don’t have a lot of ammo, and they want the talks to advance, it’s been six years already,” Meidan said.
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and is designated a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and the European Union, currently holds two Israeli civilians, Mengistu and Sayed, and the remains of two soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin.
Shaul’s and Goldin’s bodies were seized during the 2014 Gaza war, while Mengistu and Sayed, both suffering from mental illness, voluntarily crossed the border fence into Gaza in 2014 and 2015, respectively, and are believed to be still alive.
Last week, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar publicly addressed the hostage situation, saying his organization was interested in accelerating negotiations with Israel.
“Talks were progressing recently, but that all stopped because of Israel’s political instability,” he said, adding cryptically to his supporters: “Remember the number 1,111.”
Israeli officials believe the figure may refer to the number of Hamas prisoners Sinwar will demand in return for the hostages’ release.
I think that’s the right step. I’m not sure it will work; Hamas has always made sure to separate the two issues, so as to gain more. But that’s the right idea
Following the recent 11 days of intense aerial combat between Israel and Hamas, Israeli officials announced a change in policy, declaring that any entrance of construction material into the coastal enclave, intended for Gaza’s reconstruction, would be conditioned on tangible progress in the prisoner swap negotiations.
“I think that’s the right step,” said Meidan. “I’m not sure it will work; Hamas has always made sure to separate the two issues, so as to gain more. But that’s the right idea.”