Netanyahu: Israel’s pushing for release of Gaza hostages

"We are in a very sensitive and volatile security period on several fronts."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Meir Shamgar’s funeral on October 22 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Meir Shamgar’s funeral on October 22
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel keeps on pursuing efforts to secure the release of the two Israeli captives and the two missing soldiers in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday.
“We will continue our efforts to return our captives and MIAs,” Netanyahu told the weekly cabinet meeting.
He spoke after a particularly blistering attack by the mother of one of the missing soldiers, Leah Goldin. In an interview with Channel 12 on Saturday, she accused the Israeli negotiator for their release, Yaron Blum, of “lying” and “deceiving” the families of the missing soldiers and captives.
On 103 FM, she accused the government of double standards after the return of terrorist Amiad Khalil Ibrahim to Gaza in violation of a January 2017 security cabinet ruling.
Netanyahu  told the cabinet that he has full confidence in Blum, “who is doing his work in a credible, serious and professional manner.”
At issue is the fate of the bodies of two soldiers, who have been missing since the 2014 Gaza war and are presumed dead: Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23, and St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul, 20.
Palestinians in Gaza are also presumed to be holding hostage two Israelis who suffer from emotional illness and as a result wandered into Gaza: Ethiopian-Israeli  Avraham “Avera” Mengistu, who entered Gaza in September 2014, and Bedouin-Israeli Hisham al-Sayed, who went into Gaza in April 2015.
In an interview with Reshet Bet, Blum said both Mengistu and Sayed were believed to be alive. Previous to their capture, he said, both men had separately crossed the border several times and had been returned to Israel.
“We are doing everything we can to release them,” said Blum. “This was not the first time they crossed the border toward the Gaza Strip. They [Hamas] then cynically chose to leave them in violation of all international laws. They hold sick citizens, and we make every effort to release them.”
The Mengistu family said in response that Blum had made “abusive and factually incorrect statements. The family expects Mr. Blum to immediately correct his remarks and apologize.”
After the family’s reaction, Blum apologized for the remarks and said he had made a mistake and meant that only Sayed had crossed the border before.
Responding to accusations that Blum is lying to the families of Hamas’s hostages, he replied: “I do not intend to confront families, I understand their pain. The Goldin family received detailed answers. I regret the statements.”
“We are working on several negotiating channels with Hamas,” he said. “There is progress in this direction. There is more than one channel open to working on a deal.”
Blum said the gaps are very wide between Hamas’s many demands and for what Israel is willing to give.
“But we can definitely say that we are making progress in this direction,” he said.
Blum referenced the 2011 deal to release soldier Gilad Schalit, freed from five years of captivity in Gaza in exchange for the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
“Unfortunately, Hamas does not yet understand that something has also changed in the Israeli public, and I believe that the Schalit deal will not be repeated,” he said.