'I die every day': Hamas releases audio of captive 'Israeli soldier'

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Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was a captive of Hamas for five years until he was released in 2018 - AFP
Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was a captive of Hamas for five years until he was released in 2018 - AFP

Hamas has released an audio clip of a man claiming to be an Israeli hostage held in Gaza, a week after the leader of the Palestinian militant group said he was willing to negotiate a prisoner exchange with Israel.

In the recording broadcast by Al-Jazeera Arabic on Sunday, a man’s voice says he is "an Israeli soldier held captive" by Hamas and that he “dies every day”.

The authenticity of the clip has not been established, with the Israeli military saying it was investigating.

Hamas, which recently fought an 11-day war with Israel, is known to hold two Israeli citizens captive: Avera Mengistu, an Ethiopian-Israeli who was believed to be mentally unstable when he crossed into Gaza in September 2014; and Hisham al-Sayeed, an Israeli Bedouin who was reportedly taken captive after crossing a border fence into Gaza in April 2015.

The militant organisation also holds the remains of two Israeli soldiers who died in the 2014 Gaza war.

Israeli media speculated that the voice in the recording might belong to Mr Mengistu, though his mother said she is certain it is not her son speaking.

Last week, Hamas’ political leader Yahya Sinwar said his group was ready to negotiate a prisoner exchange involving captive Israeli citizens and the bodies of the soldiers.

"In the coming days we will see discussion in Cairo," he said, in remarks carried in Israeli media. "Remember the number 1,111. You'll find out later on what it means."

Hamas leader Yahyah Sinwar says the Palestinian militant group is ready for a prisoner exchange with Israel - Anadolu
Hamas leader Yahyah Sinwar says the Palestinian militant group is ready for a prisoner exchange with Israel - Anadolu

The tape of the alleged captive aired as part of an investigative series by Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera into Israeli prisoners held by Hamas. In the segment, Marwan Issa, the deputy commander of Hamas’ armed wing talked about the prisoner exchange to free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011.

Mr Shalit, who was held by Hamas after being seized in a cross-border ambush in 2006, was exchanged for 1,027 mostly Palestinian and Arab Israeli prisoners.

A Hamas-affiliated outlet has also recently released never-before-seen footage of Mr Shalit when he was in captivity, exercising in his cell.

Yaron Blum, the Israeli government's coordinator for prisoners and missing persons, accused Hamas of "cheap and transparent manipulation" in releasing the audio to distract from its military losses during the recent fighting in Gaza.

Hamas is in "distress after the severe blows it sustained," he said.

"Israel is perfectly aware of the situation of [soldiers] Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, may they rest in peace, and of the two Israeli civilians Hisham al-Sayed and Avera Mengistu who crossed the border to Gaza. The state of Israel will continue working with determination and responsibility to return the boys and the civilians," Mr Blum said.

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