‘Don’t reconcile with Turkey and leave my son in Gaza’

Family of Israeli held in Strip demands his return; Turkish FM: Ankara’s ties with Hamas will continue.

June 23, 2016 05:46
Meeting with the family of Avraham Mengistu at the Knesset on Monday.

DEPUTY MINISTER for Regional Cooperation Ayoub Kara (center) and Ethiopian Ambassador Helawe Yosef (right) meet with the family of Avraham Mengistu at the Knesset on Monday.. (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

As a reconciliation deal with Turkey draws closer, the family of Avraham “Abera” Mengistu, the Israeli who has been held in Gaza since 2014, is hoping and praying his freedom will be included in the accord.

Mengistu’s brother Ilan told The Jerusalem Post that the whole family is on edge, and his mother cries at every reminder of her missing son.

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“Everything that reminds her of him makes her cry; whenever we have a meeting with anyone from the government about Abera she cries,” he said. “She’s in a very difficult state, the whole family is.”

The family heard about a possible reconciliation between Turkey and Israel this week through the media, Ilan said, and began hoping the deal could bring a glimmer of hope for Abera.

On Tuesday, Yaakov Nagel, the head Israel’s National Security Council, said that an agreement with Turkey is “very close,” echoing upbeat assessments from senior Turkish officials in the Turkish media, though Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Tuesday dampened optimism, saying Turkey’s relationship with Hamas is not a “condition” in the talks.

Hamas officials themselves said Turkey has renounced the condition that Israel lift the blockade on Gaza, but there is expectation that the agreement would include an easing of the blockade, or at least an increase in aid to the coastal territory.

For Mengistu’s family, any concessions to the Gaza Strip without at the very least a sign of life from Abera, is a disgrace, Ilan said Wednesday.

“This deal is supposed to include humanitarian aid for Gaza, but there isn’t anything about humanitarian aid for my brother. This is the most basic thing – that someone hears his cries.”

Ilan said the family is in regular contact with government officials including negotiator Lior Lotan, and that they have information on his brother, though he wouldn’t give further details.

Ilan said he and the family are calling on the government to take immediate steps for the sake of his brother. Chief among these is a sort of titfor- tat, in which Israeli would cease family visitation rights for all Palestinian security prisoners as long as Abera is not visited by the Red Cross or other aid organizations.

“He was a naïve, nice young man who never hurt anyone, and I think it’s our responsibility and that of the country to take care of him,” Ilan said.

“We have no doubt that if he were a Palestinian security prisoner you’d be hearing about him everywhere.”

The disappearance of Abera and the total media blackout on the case for 10 months sparked allegations of racism, especially from the Ethiopian- Israeli community, where many alleged that if he had been a native-born Israeli – especially a middle-class Ashkenazi from a “good family” – then the government would have pulled more strings to secure his release or in the very least would have allowed publication of his disappearance.

Ilan said he doesn’t get involved in such allegations of racism, saying only that “this is not a simple situation.

He wasn’t a soldier, he was a citizen who crossed the border on his own and we are acting in kind.”

Mengistu – one of seven brothers and three sisters from a poor neighborhood of Ashkelon – entered the Gaza Strip on September 7, 2014, after climbing over the barrier near the seashore at Zikim beach. Soldiers who saw him called out to him to stop, but he ignored their calls and disappeared into the Hamas-run enclave.

Mengistu is one of two Israeli civilians being held in the Gaza Strip. The other is a Beduin Israeli from the South.

A group of activists working on behalf of the Mengistu family said Wednesday that they are planning a series of protests in the near future in order to raise public awareness about Abera.

As a condition of the reconciliation talks, Israel has demanded that Turkey oust the Hamas command post in Istanbul.

“Our talks with Israel are continuing. Our conditions are simple. The deal in the first upcoming meeting depends on Israel’s attitude,” Cavusoglu said, according to the Turkish press. Cavusoglu, according to the Daily Sabah website, said Turkey’s talks with Hamas would continue in the future.

“Turkey’s demands are very simple, they must be met...

aid must reach Gaza,” the foreign minister said. This, however, is a significant change from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s demand over the last few years that Israel must lift the blockade of Gaza to normalize ties with Turkey. The ties fell apart after the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, when Israel Navy commandos boarded the vessel as it tried to breach the blockade of Gaza, killing nine Turks who attacked them on the ship.

In a conversation with the London- based newspaper Rai al-Youm on Wednesday, unnamed Hamas officials said: “Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced to Hamas’s leadership that he has done everything possible to lift the siege or ameliorate it, but the Israeli government stubbornly rejected his attempts.”

“Erdogan told the leadership that he must make progress on the normalization deal with Israel in order to serve Turkey’s interests,” the officials in Hamas added.

Turkey is expected to begin membership talks again with the EU on June 30, and is trying to break out of its regional diplomatic isolation.

The Hamas officials said that they expect Turkey to take strong measures against senior Hamas officials residing in Turkey – mainly by limiting their freedom of movement within the state – in order to meet Israel’s condition for normalization.

Senior Hamas leaders have lately ceased their visits to Turkey. Hamas’s political bureau chief, Khaled Mashaal, did not attend the annual conference of Turkey’s ruling party, the AKP, that took place in Ankara in May, as he has done in the past. He also did not attend the wedding of Erdogan’s daughter last month.

Israeli and Turkish teams are expected to meet Sunday at an undisclosed European location.

The Israeli team will be headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s special envoy Joseph Ciechanover, and the Turkish delegation will be led by Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu, a former ambassador to Israel.

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