Israel accused Hamas of preventing a hostage deal after the terrorist organization published its first video of one of the captives, Hisham al-Sayed, who was shown lying in bed and breathing through an oxygen mask.
“It is Hamas that is delaying any chance of a deal,” said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office on Tuesday, adding that the Palestinian group which forcibly controls Gaza is “cynical and reprehensible.”
Al-Sayed entered Gaza in April 2015 and has been held since then by Hamas, along with Israeli citizen Avera Mengistu who crossed into the Strip in April 2014.
During his one year in office, Bennett was not able to secure an agreement for the release of the two men or for the Hamas-held bodies of two soldiers believed killed in the 2014 Gaza war: Lt. Hadar Goldin and St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul.
Hamas has portrayed al-Sayed and Mengistu as soldiers. However neither of the men is connected to the IDF, and both are believed to suffer from psychological illnesses. Hamas warned on Monday that the health situation of one of its captives had deteriorated.
In the 39-second video it released, al-Sayed can be seen lying down with his head on a floral pillow and a floral sheet pulled up to his chest. His arms are laid straight over the sheet and he moves his head slowly to the side.
Al-Sayed’s Israeli ID card was open on the bed so that his identity was clearly spelled out. An Al Jazeera broadcast of the Qatar economic summit held in the last week could be seen on a flat-screen TV next to the bed.
Al-Sayed’s father, Sheban, told Channel 12 that this was “the first time in seven years” he had seen his son.
“It’s very emotional,” said Sheban. He called on Hamas to release his emotionally ill son who needs to be under a doctor’s care, and who has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Sheban said they first heard of al-Sayed’s kidnapping from Hamas, who published information in 2015 that they were holding his son. At the time, they were relieved to have news of him, because he had already been missing for months.
Al-Sayed’s family lives in the Bedouin town of al-Hura in the Negev, where they were already struggling, including financially, even before the kidnapping, Sheban said.
The welfare and insurance offices have not dealt with the family as they should, he said, adding that this experience has “shattered the family.”
Hamas’s attempt to shine attention on the plight of the captives comes prior to the anticipated July 13 visit to Israel by US President Joe Biden. It also comes on the cusp of a power transition in Israel in which Foreign Minister Lapid will become interim prime minister, replacing Bennett as head of the government.
The al-Sayed family and as well the Mengistu family, who are Ethiopian immigrants, have not managed to lead the type of high-profile campaigns that have led to hostage swaps in the past, such as the 2011 deal that led to the release of former IDF soldier Gilad Schalit after five years in captivity in Gaza.
To date, it has been the Goldin family that has spearheaded international and domestic activity to conclude a deal.
Egypt had held unsuccessful indirect talks between Israel and Hamas last year in an attempt to broker a deal that would have included the release of the hostages.
Lapid and Israeli officials believe that the psychological issues of al-Sayed and Mengistu necessitate the hostages’ immediate and unconditional release.
On Tuesday, Lapid called on “the international community, including the World Health Organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the organizations dealing with the mentally ill, to condemn Hamas for its inhuman behavior and demand that it act in accordance with international law” and free the men.
The Prime Minister’s Office added, “Distributing a video of a sick person is a heinous and desperate act.” It said that Israel holds Hamas responsible for the health of its captive citizens.
Israel will continue with its efforts to return the bodies of the soldiers and the hostages, the PMO said.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz accused Hamas of “extortion” through its publication of the video, and that Hamas is paying and will continue to pay a price for its terrorist activities. “The State of Israel will continue taking a variety of measures until all our boys return home,” Gantz said.