JERUSALEM (AP) — The Palestinian militant group Hamas released a video Monday of an Israeli it said was being held captive in the Gaza Strip, rare footage it described as a warning to Israel's new army chief.
Hamas’ military wing, the Qassam Brigades, shared the video, which purportedly showed Israeli prisoner Avera Mengistu calling on the Israeli military to secure his freedom. It remained unclear when the video was taken.
Mengistu, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent, independently crossed the Israeli fence that surrounds the blockaded Gaza Strip in 2014, following a devastating 50-day war between Israel and Hamas. His family has said that he has psychiatric problems.
The issue of Israelis in captivity is an emotional one in Israel, with the Israeli government having paid a high price for the return of its citizens or the remains of its soldiers in past politically contentious prisoner exchanges. Hamas is also holding another Israeli citizen captive, Hisham al-Sayed, as well as the remains of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, two soldiers killed in the 2014 war.
Hamas has not said where it is holding the prisoners or the soldiers' remains, and it has not allowed humanitarian visits by international officials to see them.
The militant group has on rare occasions released photos and footage of the captives. Last year, Hamas released a short video showing a sickly al-Sayed splayed on a bed and struggling to breathe with an oxygen mask.
“How long will I be here?” the man purported to be Mengistu asks in the video, broadcast Monday on the Hamas-run satellite channel Al Aqsa. “My companions and I are in captivity. ... Where are the state and the people of Israel?”
The Israeli military had no immediate comment.
Hamas released the video on the day that Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi was sworn in as the new commander of Israel's military. In a statement accompanying the footage, the militant group warned Halevi that he would “bear the burden” of his predecessor's failure to free Israeli captives held in the Palestinian enclave.
As Halevi formally took office on Monday at a ceremony in Jerusalem, he vowed that he would protect the military from political interference in the chain of command.
His predecessor, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, and other leaders in the Israeli security establishment have rebuked plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to divide the military's authority over the occupied West Bank. Powerful far-right ministers in the new government now have control over a department within the defense ministry overseeing the bureaucratic aspects of the occupation as well as a paramilitary police force.
Halevi said in his inaugural address that the army would be “devoid of all considerations that aren’t security.” He is the first West Bank settler to serve as military chief.
Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war — territories the Palestinians seek for a future independent state. Some 500,000 Israeli live in West Bank settlements that the Palestinians and most of the international community consider illegal and obstacles to peace.