Two Israeli citizens are being held in the Gaza Strip, at least one of them by the Hamas militant group, Israeli authorities said.
Avraham Mangisto “independently” crossed the border fence into the Gaza Strip on September 7 last year, nearly two weeks after the end of the Israel-Gaza war, the Israeli defence body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs said.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said that “according to credible intelligence”, Mr Mangisto is being held “against his will” by Hamas.
It said: “Israel has appealed to international and regional interlocutors to demand his immediate release and verify his well-being.”
Israeli president Reuven Rivlin said: “This is a humanitarian matter and I expect those holding him to treat him properly and to return him in full health.”
A spokesman for Hamas, Salah Bardawil, said: “We don’t have any information about it. Even if it is true, we don’t have instructions to talk about it.”
Israel’s military lifted a gag order to reveal details of the matter. It is unclear why it decided to publicise the issue 10 months after the incident.
Senior Israeli government officials said Israel had hoped keeping the affair quiet could lead to his release. They would not comment on the lifting of the gag order.
COGAT said the second Israeli citizen being held in Gaza is an Arab citizen of Israel.
The detention of Israelis in Gaza is particularly sensitive because of the prolonged saga of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas-allied militants in 2006 and held for more than five years before he was swapped for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
Israeli media said Israel had turned to international channels to appeal for Mr Mangisto’s release on humanitarian grounds because he was a civilian, not a soldier.
Israeli Channel 2 TV said Mr Mengisto arrived at an Israeli beach on the Gaza border on the evening of September 7, left behind his bag and crossed into Gaza through a breach in the border fence apparently left from movement of Israeli tanks during the Israel-Gaza war.
He is from the city of Ashkelon, Israeli media reported.
The 50-day war last summer between Hamas and Israel left 2,200 Palestinians and 73 people in Israel dead.
The family had been instructed not to speak publicly about the matter, media reports said, but that news of Mr Mengisto being held in Gaza had spread through Israel’s Ethiopian immigrant community.
Israeli Channel 10 broadcast an interview with a man it identified as Mr Mengisto’s father, holding up a statement critical of Israeli authorities.
“They didn’t do anything,” Haili Mangisto said. “Where is my son?”