Journalist talking to family of Avera Mengistu.
(photo credit: ASHKELON MUNICIPALITY)
Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a high-ranking representative for the premier apologized Friday after a series of threatening comments were made during a private meeting with members of the Mengistu family, whose 26-year-old son Avraham disappeared into the Gaza Strip last September.
Colonel (res.) Lior Lotan, the prime minister's representative dealing with hostage issues, apologized to the Mengistus in person, saying that "the good relations that we had over the past few months will continue together up until the moment when Avera [Avraham] is brought home."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement saying that Lotan's statements "should not have been said and it is good that Lior spoke with the family members tonight to apologize directly."
In a recording made public by Israel's Channel 10 on Thursday, Lotan was heard making threatening statements to the Mengistu family during a private meeting, saying that "whoever turns this into a story involving the Ethiopian community versus the State of Israel, will keep Avera in Gaza for another year."
"You have two options: The first is to point the finger at Hamas and tell them 'You are holding him [hostage], you are responsible for his fate, return him to us and we want to know that he's alive,'" Lotan told the family. "Then you have the second option, which is to point the finger at Jerusalem and say 'You aren't right, you let him cross and did not respond to letters.'"
"You guys choose. I have my opinion on this -- what is best for Israel, what will help him and what will help Hamas, but you have to choose and you will be responsible for the outcome."
On Thursday, authorities revealed that two Israeli civilians suffering mental health issues entered the Gaza Strip
, at different times on their own accord, and were held by Hamas against their will, following the lifting of a gag order that prevented publication on the incidents until now.
On September 7, 2014, Avera Avraham Mengistu, 29, of Ashkelon, crossed the security fence into the Gaza Strip, climbing over the barrier near the southern coast. Soldiers called to the scene attempted to call Mengistu back after he was already in Gazan territory, but he ignored their calls and continued straying into the Hamas-run enclave, according to senior Israeli officials.