Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with the family of Hisham al-Sayed, one of two Israeli men being held by the Hamas terror group in Gaza, his office said Thursday.
The Prime Minister’s Office said the meeting was a routine update that the prime minister provides to families of captive Israelis, downplaying any hopes of a breakthrough despite recent reports of progress in talks to free al-Sayed, along with Avera Mengistu and the remains of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, all held in Gaza.
Both al-Sayed and Mengistu entered Gaza of their own accord. They are thought to suffer from mental illness. Shaul and Goldin were killed in the Strip during the 2014 Gaza war.
“Prime Minister Bennett told the al-Sayed family that he is personally committed to returning the soldiers and civilians being held in Gaza and said that his door was always open to them,” the PMO statement said.
Bennett held the meeting alongside Yaron Bloom, who is coordinating efforts to free the Israelis held in Gaza, as well as National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata and military secretary Avi Gil.
The last meeting between the al-Sayeds and the premier was held with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2019.
Clockwise from top left: Oron Shaul, Avera Mengistu, Hadar Goldin and Hisham al-Sayed. (Flash90/Courtesy)
Bennett met with the Mengistu family in September on the day after his summit with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, in which the two leaders discussed the the indirect talks between Israel and Hamas regarding the Israeli captives.
However, the PMO at the time implied that the meeting was not an indication of a major breakthrough, calling it a periodic update.
Following a devastating conflict in May between Israel and terror groups in the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem has made reconstruction efforts in the enclave contingent upon the return of the Israeli captives.
Hamas, meanwhile, has maintained that it will only free the captives in exchange for a large-scale release of Palestinian prisoners, something Israel has flatly refused to do.
In 2011, Israel released over 1,000 security prisoners, some of whom were behind deadly terror attacks, in exchange for the release of Gilad Shalit, an IDF soldier who had been captured by Hamas on the Gaza border five years earlier. The deal was harshly criticized at the time, including by Bennett, and as several of the released prisoners resumed terrorist activities, it has remained a deeply contentious issue in Israeli society.
United States Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in July that the Biden administration will also press for the release of Israelis held in Gaza.