The Hamas terror group on Tuesday published a video showing Hisham al-Sayed, one of two Israeli men being held by the terror group in the Gaza Strip, in poor medical condition — the first image of the hostage seen in years.
In the video, al-Sayed can be seen hooked up to an oxygen mask. The footage was undated, but it appears to have been recent, as a conference streaming on Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel seen behind the Israeli hostage took place on June 21.
The video also shows al-Sayed’s Israeli identification card.
Hamas’s military wing had claimed on Monday night that “the health of one of its Israeli prisoners has deteriorated,” after years in which repeated attempts to reach a prisoner exchange deal between the two sides have hit dead ends.
Al-Sayed, a Bedouin Israeli, crossed into the Gaza Strip voluntarily in 2015. His family says he suffers from mental illness.
The footage was the first time his family had seen the detained al-Sayed for seven years. The long silence had led them to fear their son had passed away while in Hamas captivity.
“This is the first time I see his face in seven years. It helped put us at ease. He used to take medications and I hope they give him them,” his father Sha’aban al-Sayed told Channel 12.
He appealed to Hamas, saying: “Release him immediately. He’s sick and needs medical care at all times.”
Al-Mayadeen, a Lebanese television network, said Tuesday that Hamas was ready to conduct an “urgent humanitarian prisoner exchange” to swap al-Sayed for the release of all sick Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Al-Mayadeen is seen as close to the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups.
The reported Hamas demand is an apparent departure from the Islamist group’s usual approach to negotiating. Hamas has often demanded the release of prisoners for proof of life footage alone. The terror group released the footage Tuesday without publicly demanding anything from Israel.
The list of sick Palestinians includes many convicted of serious security offenses, including Nasser Abu Hmeid, a Palestinian prisoner with cancer who masterminded terror attacks during the Second Intifada.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office called Hamas’s decision to disseminate the footage of al-Sayed “a desperate and odious act.”
In a statement, Hamas falsely labeled al-Sayed, as well as the second Israeli captive Avera Mengistu, as soldiers.
“Hisham al-Sayed is not a soldier, but a mentally ill Israeli citizen who crossed the border into the Gaza Strip,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the footage proof that Hamas was “a despicable terrorist organization.” Lapid called on the World Health Organization and the Red Cross to condemn Hamas for its “inhumane conduct.”
“Israel holds Hamas directly responsible for the plight of the civilians it detains in violation of international law. These are two mentally ill people and holding them captive for years is an act of inconceivable cruelty,” said Lapid.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the video’s “credibility is in question,” and that it was “intended for extortion.”
The terror group currently holds two living Israelis — Mengistu and al-Sayed — and is believed to hold the bodies of two Israeli soldiers: Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin.
Channel 12 reported that Israel has passed along messages to Hamas through various channels saying it will hold the terror group responsible if the health of either of its captives worsens.
Israel has worked to secure the return of the two living men and the two bodies via a prisoner exchange deal with the terror group. Egyptian intelligence, which maintains close ties to both Israel and Hamas, often serves as the key intermediary.
The Kan Public Broadcaster reported on Tuesday night that Israel was considering turning to other mediators to renew the stalled talks. Bennett’s office blamed Hamas for “stymieing every chance” for a prisoner exchange deal.
Both Mengistu and al-Sayed had a history of mental illness. The two Israeli citizens crossed the Gaza boundary voluntarily between 2014 and 2015 and have since been held prisoner by Hamas.
The two soldiers, Shaul and Goldin, were killed during the 2014 Gaza war. Both their families have repeatedly petitioned the Israeli government to push for a prisoner exchange deal to receive their children’s bodies.
Israel and Hamas have held indirect talks in an attempt to reach a prisoner exchange deal. A similar deal to release Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from Hamas’s clutches saw 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners released, many of them convicted terrorists.
The 2011 exchange to secure the release of Shalit was deeply controversial, with many in Israel’s security establishment at the time claiming it was lopsided in Hamas’s favor. Many of the 1,027 prisoners released later returned to terror — such as Yahya Sinwar, who now serves as Hamas’s Gaza governor.