Hamas chief bars Red Cross from visiting Israeli captives

The head of the international Red Cross was in Gaza to discuss the fate of the five Israelis held by Hamas.

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Tuesday discussed the fate of three Israeli civilians and the remains of two IDF soldiers believed to be held by Hamas in a meeting with the leader of the Islamic terror group in Gaza.

Officials on both sides said the status of the missing Israelis was one of several issues discussed in the meeting between ICRC President Peter Maurer and Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in Gaza.

Sinwar said Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, will not release any information about the missing Israelis until Israel frees 58 Palestinian terrorists originally released in the 2011 prisoner swap, when 1,027 Palestinian prisoners were freed in exchange for Gilad Shalit. Those prisoners were later rearrested for continuing their terror activities.

Maurer reportedly requested to meet with the three Israeli captives, but Hamas refused to comply.

Alyona Synenko, an ICRC spokeswoman, confirmed that the fate of people detained or missing on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were among the many humanitarian issues discussed Tuesday. “The objective of this visit is to discuss various humanitarian concerns,” she said, declining to elaborate on Maurer’s discussions with Sinwar.

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Maurer met with families of Gazans with relatives held in Israeli prisons, spoke to people affected by a 50-day war Hamas launched against Israel in 2014, toured Gaza’s sewage-contaminated beachfront and met with beneficiaries of ICRC agricultural and medical programs.

He also plans to meet Palestinian officials in Ramallah and hold talks in Israel with government officials and relatives of the missing Israelis.

Hamas is believed to be holding the remains of two soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, killed during the 2014 war.

Shaul was killed in battle together with another six Golani soldiers in Shajaiya in 2014 when their armored personnel carrier was hit by an anti-tank rocket. His body was never recovered and is assumed to be held by Hamas.

Goldin was abducted by Hamas and killed during a battle with Hamas terrorists in Shajaiya. Two other IDF soldiers also died in the incident.

In addition, Hamas is believed to be holding three Israeli civilians who scaled a border fence and entered Gaza. Ethiopian Israeli Avera Mengistu and Bedouin Hisham al-Sayed, both said to be suffering from mental health issues, crossed into Gaza willingly in 2014 and 2015, respectively, and were captured by Hamas. A third Israeli citizen, Bedouin Jumaa Abu Ghanima, entered Gaza in July 2016.

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Hamas has not publicly released any evidence confirming it is holding the men, and their families have not heard from them.

There have reportedly been secret negotiations between Israel and Hamas to reach a deal on the issue.

As a humanitarian organization, the ICRC maintains a dialogue with Hamas. Synenko said the “pragmatic discussion” is needed to solve humanitarian problems. The Red Cross has previously called on Hamas to release the Israeli captives.

In June, Jacques de Maio, head of the ICRC delegation in Israel, stated that “missing persons, regardless of their status – fallen or captured soldiers during fighting, or civilians taken captive by an adverse party – are protected by humanitarian law. They and their families must be shown due regard under the law.”

“Persons captured alive must be accounted for and treated humanely. Human remains, too, must be handled with dignity, identified and returned to the families concerned,” de Maio said.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff