Trump envoy Jason Greenblatt meets with families of Israelis held in Gaza

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Jason Greenblatt, President Donald Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East, met with the families of Israelis believed to be held by Hamas in Gaza.

Greenblatt, who arrived in Israel this week, met Monday evening with the families of Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed to discuss the situation of the two men, a statement from the White House said. The family of Jumaa Abu Ghanima, was unable to attend the meeting.

Greenblatt “expressed outrage that Hamas has not allowed the Israelis, some of whom may need medical assistance, to communicate with their families and return home,” according to the readout. He also “expressed his sincere hope that all three Israelis would be returned to their families immediately.”

Mengistu, 30, of Ashkelon, is believed to have voluntarily climbed over the security fence between Israel and Gaza in September 2014 and has not been heard from since. He is mentally ill, according to his family. Sayed also crossed into Gaza on his own and is said to be mentally ill. Hamas in Gaza also holds the remains of Lt. Hadar Goldin and St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul, both killed during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

Greenblatt later on Monday evening tweeted a photo of himself approaching the Western Wall in Jerusalem with the words ” Tonight I’m also praying for the Goldin, Shaul, Mengistu, al-Sayed & Abu Ghanima families.”

He also tweeted a photo of himself praying at the Western Wall, with the statement: “This 17 Tamuz, I stand @ the Kotel before annual commemoration of destruction of Jerusalem & 1st/2nd Temples. I pray for peace here for all.”

The 17th of Tammuz, the date on the Hebrew calendar with began at sundown on Monday, marks the breach of the walls of Jerusalem before the destruction of the Second Temple.  Jews fast on this day, and fast three weeks later on the 9th of Av to mark the destruction of both the First and Second Temples.

Greenblatt is in Israel to meet with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, according to the White House.

“While the primary purpose of his trip is to meet with the ambassador now that the ambassador is on the ground and fully installed in his position, Greenblatt will also likely be taking meetings relevant to both the Israelis and the Palestinians,” a White House official said on Sunday before he left for Israel, calling the trip “an interim visit as talks continue about potential next steps” in restarting peace talks.

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