Knowing Hamas is holding 2 captives and the remains of 2 deceased soldiers in Gaza (for years), the Red Cross had no reservations asking Israel to locate 5 missing tunnel-diggers believed to be ‘buried’ in Israel.
Israel will not allow a search for Palestinian militants missing and presumed dead after an Israeli strike on a terror tunnel to be retrieved until there is “progress” on the return of Israelis held captive by Hamas, a senior Israeli defense official said on Thursday.
On Monday the Israeli army said it had detected and destroyed a tunnel reportedly being dug by the Islamic Jihad terror group, which stretched into Israel from the Gaza Strip. The explosion killed at least seven people belonging to the group, as well as Hamas, which controls Gaza.
However Palestinian and Israeli media have reported that several more militants, likely deceased, remain in the collapsed tunnel.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Major General Yoav Mordechai, said on Thursday that he had received a request from the Red Cross to locate “the terrorists missing under the tunnel”.
However he spurned the international humanitarian body’s approach, telling the Red Cross’ local chief that “Israel would not allow search operations in the area of the security barrier in the Gaza Strip without progress on the issue of Israeli prisoners those killed in action.”
Hamas is believed to be holding captive at least two Israelis, Avraham (Avera) Mengistu and Hisham Al-Sayeed, who entered Hamas-controlled Gaza during periods of poor mental health in 2014 and 2015 respectively. A third Israeli, Jumma Abu Ghanima, has not been heard from since he was spotted entering the blockaded enclave in July 2016.
The Islamist group is also holding the bodies of two Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were killed during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.
The four men have reportedly been the discussion of several rounds of negotiations between Hamas and Israeli representatives, brokered by Egypt. Despite a flurry of reports over the summer that the two sides were closing in on a deal, nothing has come to fruition.
- Abandoning Israelis kept hostage, ICRC demands Israel reinstate visits to Hamas prisoners
- Red Cross Keeps Israeli Captives’ Fate to Themselves
- Israel Lodges Formal Complaint Against Palestinian Red Crescent
The Israeli government has also copped criticism from the families of the two soldiers for what they say is a lack of action on the issue.
Last month Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed Yaron Blum, a former senior officer in Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, to take up the high-profile position of leading the effort to secure their release.
Hamas and Israel have fought several wars since the group took control of the enclave in 2007, after which Israel imposed a strict sea and land blockade. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have both burrowed tunnels for smuggling and to launch attacks inside Israel.
On Monday the IDF said that the tunnel was discovered on the Israeli side of the Gaza border fenceusing new advanced detection technologies and was subsequently “neutralized.”
The health ministry in the Hamas-run enclave reported that seven Palestinians were killed and several wounded when the tunnel was destroyed. Among them were high-ranking members of Islamic Jihad, the group that reportedly built the tunnel, and Hamas, according to media reports.
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