TEL AVIV – Human Rights Watch (HRW) slammed the Gaza-based terror group Hamas on Tuesday for holding two Israeli citizens who are believed to suffer from mental illness and demanded their immediate release.
Israeli citizens Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed crossed the border into Gaza voluntarily in 2014 and 2015 respectively and have been held there ever since. HRW noted that both men “have histories of wandering far on foot.”
HRW’s report rejects Hamas’ claim that the two are IDF soldiers, saying that Mengistu was rejected by the military on account of his mental illness while Sayed was discharged from his unit after only a few months of service.
The group says there are several indicators that the two are being held in Hamas custody, and urged the terror group to confirm that this is indeed the case. Hamas has published videos on social media with photos of the two.
“Hamas’s refusal to confirm its apparent prolonged detention of men with mental health conditions and no connection to the hostilities is cruel and indefensible,” stated Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, adding, “No grievance or objective can justify holding people incommunicado and bartering over their fates.”
HRW also said that a third person, Arab-Israeli Jumaa Abu Ghanima, entered Gaza in July 2016. It is unclear however, if Ghanima crossed the border to join a terror organization or if he too is in Hamas custody.
HRW had previously contacted Hamas about the two men last September, but the terror group said it would refuse to give any answers until Israel releases a number of Hamas prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Hamas also rejected Israeli proposals to release the two together with the remains of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, killed during the 2014 summer conflict.
The Ethiopian-Jewish community in Israel has campaigned for the government to work harder to secure Mengistu’s release.