The health of an Israeli captive held by Hamas has deteriorated, Abu Obedia, spokesman for Hamas’s Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades, announced on Monday afternoon.
“Confirmation” of the claim will be released “in the coming hours,” Obedia said.
Hamas has previously used the issue of Israeli hostages as bargaining chips to achieve policy objectives such as the release of prisoners from Israeli jails. Statements about the welfare of hostages are often viewed in Israel as psychological warfare on the part of the terrorist group.
Hamas’s statement comes two weeks before US President Joe Biden’s expected visit to the region on July 13.
Who are the Israeli prisoners?
Hamas is understood to be holding captive two Israeli civilians, both of whom suffer from mental illness. It is believed that as a result of this illness, they crossed into Gaza.
Ashkelon resident Avera Mangistu, originally from Ethiopia, has been held captive since he entered Gaza in September 2014. Hisham al-Sayed, from the Bedouin town of al-Hura in the Negev, entered Gaza in April 2015.
Separately, Hamas is also believed to be holding the remains of two soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war: Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oron Shaul.
The Goldin family has led the campaign to pressure Hamas to release its Israeli hostages. The campaign has attempted, without success, to link the passage of goods into Gaza with the release of their loved ones.
A "cynical and criminal" organization
“Hamas has proven tonight that it is a cynical and criminal terrorist organization, which holds mentally ill civilians in violation of all international conventions and laws, as well as the bodies of IDF soldiers,” said the Prime Minister’s Office.
“Hamas has proven tonight that it is a cynical and criminal terrorist organization, which holds mentally ill civilians in violation of all international conventions and laws, as well as the bodies of IDF soldiers.”Prime Ministers Office
“Hamas is the one responsible for the welfare of the civilian captives. The State of Israel will continue its efforts, mediated by Egypt, to restore the captives and the missing responsibly and with determination.”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had initially held a hard line in the aftermath of the Gaza war, briefly giving rise to the possibility that a deal was in the works.
There was some initial hope that an indirect cease-fire agreement with Hamas could be reached, which would include the release of the hostages. But as the months passed, it became clear that no such ceasefire would be immediately forthcoming.
Using human remains "as a bargaining chip"
Earlier this month, a former National Security Council official referred to as “Maoz” told KAN Reshet Bet radio that Israel had been “very close” to reaching a prisoner swap agreement to return the Israelis being held captive in the Gaza Strip.
Maoz lamented that the issue of the captives has not been discussed recently, saying that Israel needs to set red lines concerning how far its willing to go with economic incentives to Hamas until this issue is settled.
“We have two civilians and two [dead] soldiers who are there, and this needs to always be in front of our eyes – we need to do everything in order to return them,” he said. “Hamas needs to understand that there is a line, a strong line, and not a line that is blurred all the time and is crossed. I think that we were very close to a solution concerning the captives and missing, again, because of reasons that I don’t want to get into at the moment, we did not reach a solution.”
On Monday in the UN Security Council, US Deputy Ambassador Richard Mills called for the swapping of “human remains” held by both the Palestinians and Israel.
“We are troubled by the ongoing practice of using human remains as a bargaining chip,” Mills said.
He noted that US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield met Hadar’s mother, Leah Goldin, last month.
“We continue to be disheartened by the cruelty of denying a family the ability to properly mourn their loved one,” Mills said. “Many Palestinian families also know this suffering, as there are Palestinian remains that have similarly not been returned to their families. Human remains must be returned to their families immediately and unconditionally.”
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.