Human Rights Watch condemns Hamas illegal detention of Israelis
The human rights organization says Hisham al-Sayed and Abera Mengistu are being used by the terror group to secure the release of its members from Israeli prisons; HRW also says a third Israeli citizen entered Gaza in July 2016 but his fate remains unknown.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday condemned the "illegal" detention of two Israeli citizens by Hamas, releasing new details about the men.
The Islamist terror group which runs Gaza is believed to have held Hisham al-Sayed and Abera Mengistu since April 2015 and September 2014 respectively, after they voluntarily entered the strip.
Both men suffer from serious mental health issues, the report said.
Hamas media has claimed the two were soldiers, but HRW said Mengistu was rejected from Israel's military on medical grounds and Sayed was discharged after a few months.
HRW said a third Israeli citizen, Jumaa Abu Ghanima, entered Gaza in July 2016, but there is no further information on him and it is unclear whether he was arrested or joined a militant group.
Hamas has never officially confirmed it is holding Sayed and Mengistu, but videos the group has published on social media have included their images.
Hamas, which took control of Gaza in 2007, has not released any details on their condition or allowed rights groups to visit them.
Israel bans its nationals from entering Gaza for security reasons.
HRW said Hamas is demanding that Israel release a number of its members from Israeli jails before it even releases information about the captives.
"No demand can justify disappearing and bartering over the lives of men, particularly those with serious mental health conditions," said Omar Shakir, HRW director for Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Shakir said Hamas should either release the men or provide evidence of their alleged crimes.
"While they are being detained they must treat them humanely and provide them with contact with their families," he told AFP.
Sayed's father Sha'aban said his son, a Bedouin Muslim, has schizophrenia and had previously disappeared to Jordan and even Gaza multiple times, eventually being returned by the authorities.
"We just want to ask Hamas why are they holding him? What is the reason?" he told AFP. "They say he is a soldier, an officer, in the Israeli army. This is a lie."
Hamas did not respond to AFP's request for comment.
HRW said Mengistu, an Israeli Jew of Ethiopian descent, climbed over a fence along the Gaza-Israel border to enter the enclave.
Sayed is believed to have walked across a relatively open area of the heavily fortified border.
Last year, old images of the two men appeared in a Hamas video along with pictures of two soldiers who they claim were kidnapped alive in the 2014 war with Israel.
The Israeli army said the two soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, were killed, but that Hamas has the bodies.
In 2011 Israel exchanged more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier Hamas had detained for five years.