Addis Ababa (TPS) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed to his Ethiopian counterpart during his visit to Ethiopia for assistance in locating and returning Avera Mengistu, an Ethiopian-Israeli citizen who ran into the Gaza Strip and went missing.
“I have raised the issue of Avera Mengistu with the prime minister of Ethiopia and asked for his help on the matter,” said Netanyahu. “We always raise the issue of our missing citizens in various occasions and of course here, too.”
Mengistu, 28, climbed over the border fence between Israel and Gaza on September 7, 2014. A mentally ill resident of Ashkelon, Mengistu is believed to be held by the Hamas terrorist organization, which contends that he was released from its custody after a few days of questioning. Israel allowed details of the story to be published only after a ten-month gag order and maintains that Mengistu remains in Gaza as a Hamas captive.
The Mengistu family, along with families of other Israelis held captive by Hamas, were angered when the recent detente with Turkey did not result in progress in returning their relatives. They organized a protest in response, in which they attempted to block a shipment of food into Gaza.
The family, however, declined to comment on Netanyahu’s recent statement in response to a request by Tazpit Press Service (TPS).
Netanyahu made the pledge to attempt to free Mengistu at a press conference with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn at the Ethiopian National Palace. Netanyahu also announced plans for further Israeli-Ethiopian cooperation in a vast array of spheres, including agriculture, tourism, education, and water.
“We are committed to enhancing our partnership and our friendship in concrete ways.” said Netanyahu. “It is not just statements. It is a plan for concrete cooperation in areas that are important to both our peoples.”
Netanyahu highlighted the historic link between Israel and Ethiopia. “Israel has a special place in Ethiopia, and Ethiopia has a special place in Israel,” he stated. ”It goes back 3,000 years to the time of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.”
Netanyahu also promised to help Jews that remain in Ethiopia to immigrate to Israel. “We have a commitment and we are fulfilling it in humanitarian cases and cases of family reunification,” he continued. “We have an obligation and we are dealing with it.”
The visit to Ethiopia wrapped up Netanyahu’s four-day trip to sub-Saharan Africa in which he also visited Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda. Billed as “Back to Africa,” the visit was an investment in Israel’s diplomatic relations with the continent and was the first visit by an Israeli prime minister in 39 years.
Michael Bachner contributed to this article.