(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel's working assumption is that Avera Mengistu, a 26-year-old Ethiopian-Israeli resident of Ashkelon, is alive and being held by Hamas in Gaza, a security source said Thursday.
The source's comment came just hours after a gag-order prohibiting publication of the case was lifted. Mengistu crossed over the border into Gaza on September 8, 2014.
The sources confirmed that another non-Jewish Israeli was also missing in Gaza.
Security analyst Yossi Melman discusses missing Israelis in Gaza
Mengistu, according to the source, was not a soldier or ever mobilized into the army because of health problems.
After crossing the border into Gaza he was arrested, and brought in by Hamas for interrogation. The information that Israel received from Hamas was that he was in their hands and released, with an implication that he continued to Egypt in order to go to Ethiopia.
Israel does not accept this version of events, and believes that there are two reasons why Hamas would disseminate this false story: the first is to preserve him as an “asset “ for future negotiations with Israel.
The second possibility is that something bad happened to him, and the person responsible for him is hiding that information from everyone, including senior Hamas officials.
The source said that the gag order was clamped on the case in order to clarify what happened to Mengistu. The source said that the family has been in contact with the president, prime minister, and defense minister. The support the family has received, the source said, is the same given to a missing soldier.
Two months ago the incident was reported in a Jordanian newspaper, but despite the report, it was decided to keep the gag order in place – something the source said the family wanted.
The source completely dismissed allegations that the incident was hushed up because of Mengistu's Ethiopian descent.
Security sources said there was currently no contact with Hamas for Mengistu's release, and that Hamas is denying that he is in their hands. One source said that if as a result of the publication of the matter Hamas will begin negotiations for his release, then that would be “significant progress.”
The source said that efforts are underway to secure the release of the bodies of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin killed last year in Operation Protective Edge, but that Hamas is refusing to discuss this and even putting conditions on the very existence of talks on this issue.