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At least two Israeli citizens held in Gaza

JERUSALEM: Israeli authorities say two Israeli citizens are being held in the Gaza Strip, at least one of them by the Hamas militant group.

The Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs said Avraham Mangisto left behind his bag and crossed into Gaza through a breach in the border fence apparently left from movement of Israeli tanks during the war. Mengisto is from the city of Ashkelon, Israeli media reported.

The Coordinator of Government Activities (COGAT) in the Territories said that “according to credible intelligence,” Mangisto is being held “against his will” by Hamas. It said “Israel has appealed (to) international and regional interlocutors to demand his immediate release and verify his well-being.”

COGAT said the second Israeli citizen being held in Gaza is an Arab citizen of Israel. It provided no further details.

A spokesman for Hamas, Salah Bardawil, declined comment. “We don’t have any information about it. Even if is true, we don’t have instructions to talk about it,” he said.

Israel’s military lifted a gag order Thursday to reveal details of the matter. It is unclear why it decided to publicize the issue months after the incident. Israeli officials declined immediate comment.

Israeli Channel 2 TV said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been in touch with Mengisto’s parents and that Lior Lotan, a retired Israeli army colonel, was handling negotiations to return Mengisto to Israel.

The family had been instructed not to speak publicly about the matter, media said, but that news of Mengisto being held in Gaza had spread through Israel’s Ethiopian immigrant community.

Israeli Channel 10 broadcast an interview with a man it identified as Mengisto’s father, holding up a statement critical of Israeli authorities.

“They didn’t do anything,” Haili Mangisto said. “Where is my son?”

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