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'Don't negotiate with Hamas to free my son', says father of Gaza-held Israeli

Sha'aban Al-Sayeed holds a picture of his son, Hisham, believed to be held captive in Gaza by Hamas, 13 April 2016.
YOAV LEMMER (AFP)
Father tells i24NEWS it is Hamas' responsibility to grant his son's release

The father of an Israeli believed to be held captive by Hamas has urged the Israeli government not to negotiate with the Islamist group in order to secure his son's release, demanding that the rulers of Gaza instead obey the principles of international and Islamic law.

"I say that my son must be freed without negotiations. I do not prefer to negotiate with Hamas,” Sha’aban Al-Sayeed, whose son Hisham has been held in the Strip for just over two years, told i24NEWS in an interview Wednesday.

Sha'aban added that "people [should] pressure Hamas and explain to Hamas that they need to return a sick civilian, that he’s not a soldier, that it’s forbidden under international law."

"And it’s also forbidden under Islamic law. Islam doesn’t permit the taking of hostages. If you’re a Muslim, send him to freedom. Let him be free," he said.

Along with the bodies of two fallen Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, Hamas has strongly hinted that it is holding another Israeli civilian, Avera Mengistu.

The cases of two Israeli Bedouin citizens, Hisham Al-Sayeed and Jumaa Abu Ghanima - who crossed into Gaza exactly one year ago - have gleaned less attention.

In recent weeks, multiple reports have surfaced in Israeli and Arab media of intensifying negotiations between Israel and Hamas over a prisoner swap deal that would clinch the release of the Israelis in exchange for a clutch of Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas wants Israel to release Palestinians it freed and later re-arrested under the previous prisoner swap deal, which saw 1,027 prisoners let go in return for a single Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in 2011.

Hisham, who lived with his family in the Negev town of Al-Hura, was detected crossing into Gaza on April 20 2015. His family says he has long been in poor mental health and hospital records they provided to Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international NGO, describe him as a “recurring patient”, “known to psychiatric services for several years" who had previously been diagnosed with an "acute psychotic" disorder.

Neighbors and shopkeepers in al-Hura told HRW earlier this year that the 29-year old would often float between homes and shops in the neighborhood to fill time, with one local saying he “shares everything with everyone and doesn’t hide anything.”

Human Rights Watch

His mother, Manal, depicted Hisham to HRW as “never content with the life he has at home and always looking at other people and wishing he had what they have.”

Sha'aban said his son crossed into the coastal enclave on two previous occasions in 2010 and 2013, although then the family was able to successfully leverage familial and community contacts to secure his return. Once, according to medical records, he was taken into custody near the Gaza border and admitted to a psychiatric facility for a “lengthy period of time.”

Sha'aban believes that precisely because of Hisham's precarious health situation, it is solely Hamas' responsibility to grant him freedom.

"I’m willing to meet with any Hamas official personally or through the media. I’m ready to sit with the head of Hamas on television," Sha'aban told i24NEWS. "Not for negotiations but in order to release him."

"I request and I demand to sit with Hamas and talk. All this time, I’ve been looking in a private manner," he said, noting that despite trying for two years now, he still has faith in the contacts and influence that the Bedouin community maintains in Gaza.

Twitter account of Jason Greenblatt, photographer not credited.

Hamas has previously branded Hisham and Avera Mengistu as soldiers or spies, and released clearly photoshopped images of the two in military uniform (IDF records release by the families show that the two were both found unfit for service). The Islamist group has strongly implied, but never officially stated, that they are holding them.

On Monday Sha'aban, along with the Mengistu family, met with Donald Trump's Middle East peace envoy, Jason Greenblatt, in Jerusalem.

"[Greenblatt] said that we feel the pain of your child. We feel your problem. We’re ready to do everything in order to release your son," said Sha'aban of the meeting, which came a few weeks after the White House official sat down with the families of the fallen soldiers.

"I do believe. I believe in him very much," Sha'aban added.

Sha'aban also said that he was pleased with the support his family has garnered from Israelis, both Arabs and Jews. In contrast, the Mengistu family have lamented that Israeli politicians and media have often overlooked the plight of the living captives in favor of the families of the dead soldiers.

YOAV LEMMER (AFP/File)

A third hostage?

Wednesday also marks the one year anniversary since the third suspected Israeli captive in Gaza, Jumaa Abu Ghanima, crossed into the Strip.

Of all the Israelis thought to be in Hamas custody, the circumstances surrounding Ghanima's flight to Gaza are the murkiest.

His family declined to be interviewed by i24NEWS, and an Israeli official would not comment on the case. Hamas has also denied holding him.

Jumaa's father Ibrahim, who hails from Abu al-Hamaam in Israel's south, told HRW this year that after being questioned extensively by the Shin Bet following his son's disappearance, he was never contacted again by Israeli authorities.

The day after Jumaa's crossing, Ibrahim told the Ynet website: “yesterday, he was driving close to the border when all of a sudden he disappeared on us. We went crazy when we realized he went into Gaza."

"My son suffers from a complicated mental situation," he added. "We took him to the hospital and to sheikhs because of his behavior but unfortunately nothing helped. I don't understand why he decided to cross the border … had I known, I wouldn't have allowed him to leave the house."

Despite the silence over Ghanima's whereabouts, the media reports on Israel-Hamas prisoner exchange discussions – some of which cite sources in Hamas - have spoken of five Israelis, implying that he is in Hamas' possession.

Reporting by Max Schindler and Jacob Atkins

Read more: Mediator believes 'deal can be made' for Ethiopian Israeli held captive in Gaza

Read more: Israel, Hamas 'very close' to reaching deal to release Israeli captives: reports

"High Definition" followed the Mengistu family in their efforts to secure the release of their son Avera. Tune in on Wednesday July 19th at 10pm EST for the whole story.

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