US secretary of state wraps up two-day Middle East visit with pledges on cementing the ceasefire and rebuilding Gaza.
Al Jazeera Arabic aired audio of an unidentified person who purported to be an Israeli soldier being held captive by Hamas’s armed branch, the al-Qassam Brigades.
In the audio clip played on Sunday in an episode for the investigative series Tip of the Iceberg, the person said he “wonders if and hopes that Israel still exists. And if so, I wonder whether the leaders of the country think of its captured soldiers and are concerned with their release”.
He added: “I die every day anew,” saying he hoped to be with his family soon. “Please help,” he pleaded.
It was the first time the al-Qassam Brigades disclosed a recording of this kind.
Hamas has said it holds two Israeli soldiers – Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul – who were captured during the 2014 war, and two former soldiers – Hisham al-Sayed and Avera Mengistu – who entered Gaza under unclear conditions, according to reports.
Since their capture, Hamas has not disclosed the fate of the four, but Israel claims two soldiers were killed during the war and Hamas only holds their remains.
Following the release of the programme, some Israeli commentators said the man heard in the recording was Mengistu, an Israeli prisoner of Ethiopian origin. Israeli news Channel 12 also reported that Israeli defence officials were trying to ascertain whether it was in fact Mengistu.
Israeli media reported, however, that Mengistu’s mother believed the voice heard in the audio recording was not her son’s.
“I can say unequivocally that it’s not my son, that’s not his voice,” Agarnesh Mengistu told Israel’s Kan public broadcaster. “I’m waiting for my son, and I hope to see him soon as I have been promised.”
Israel’s government coordinator for prisoners and missing persons Yaron Blum dismissed the release of the footage as a “cheap manipulation by Hamas”.
Blum said Israel was “fully aware” of the condition of the soldiers, refuting claims by Hamas that the two soldiers could be alive.
Tip of the Iceberg also aired previously undisclosed footage of former Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from his time in Hamas captivity. He was held by Hamas between 2006 and 2011 after being abducted in a border operation.
The video footage showed Shalit doing daily activities including working out, shaving, tying his shoelaces and playing with a ball.
The report featured members of the al-Qassam Brigades allegedly involved in Shalit’s capture on June 5, 2006, and exclusive documents from the minutes of the negotiations on the prisoner exchange process five years later.
“I started firing and throwing grenades at the inside of the tank. We reached the tank, and a terrified soldier came out of the turret and surrendered. We were ordered to take him,” said the unnamed Hamas member reportedly involved in Shalit’s capture along with six others.
Marwan Issa, deputy commander of the al-Qassam Brigades, told Al Jazeera that after Shalit’s capture a number of mediators from the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Egypt contacted them to release Shalit.
“We moved him from place to place to guard him. The PA and Egypt tried to end the affair quietly,” Issa said.
Issa said: “More than once, Israel tried to kidnap senior Hamas figures, including Ahmad Jabari, and offered large sums of money to anyone who would bring information about Shalit but it failed.” Jabari is second-in-command of the al-Qassam Brigades.
Shalit was freed in 2011 in exchange for the release of 1,027 Palestinians. Hamas members handed him over to Egyptian mediators before he was taken by helicopter to Tel Nof airbase in central Israel, where he was greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and reunited with his family.
Former Israeli leader Ehud Olmert told Al Jazeera that, as prime minister, he rejected a deal to release Shalit, citing a very “high price” demanded by Hamas.
Gerhard Conrad, who was a top mediator with the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) for decades, was instrumental in the negotiations to release Shalit, according to the report.
Conrad also played a key role in a 2004 prisoner exchange between the Lebanese Shia militia Hezbollah and Israel facilitated by Germany’s BND.