Senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk claimed to Al Jazeera on Thursday that Israeli captive Avraham Mengistu did not enter Gaza last September due to mental illness, but rather was captured as a soldier participating in last summer's war.
Abu Marzouk, who serves as Hamas's deputy politburo chief, denied the statements by Israel and Mengistu's family, according to which the 26-year-old has a history of mental illness which led him to climb over the security barrier ignoring the calls of IDF soldiers, and then be captured by Hamas forces.
Rather the Hamas leader claimed that Mengistu is an IDF soldier who was captured during last summer's Operation Protective Edge. He also denied reports from earlier on Thursday, according to which Israel and Hamas started negotiations about a prisoner exchange.
Abu Marzouk's claims are highly questionable to say the least, particularly since Hamas earlier claimed it wasn't holding Mengistu but rather had released him to civilian life in Gaza, an unthinkable fate for a captured IDF soldier.
Likewise it flies in the face of reason that Hamas would not have made demands for the release of terrorists in exchange for a live soldier between the end of the operation last August and now; the terror group had not gone public with Mengistu's fate until a gag order on his story was lifted earlier this month by Israel.
Nevertheless, Abu Marzouk claimed that "Israel asked for information about him (Mengistu) since August 2014, which proves it lied about how the Ethiopian soldier was captured; (he) actually disappeared during its (Israel's) aggression in Gaza."
"Mengistu, who they are calling crazy, told us about the negotiation in Cairo" for a ceasefire in the war last summer, claimed the Hamas leader. "How could a crazy person wearing a uniform run during the war from Be'er Sheva and cross 40 kilometers to the northern Gaza Strip?"
He reiterated previous statements by Hamas saying that no information on Mengistu would be given to Israel without the release of 71 terrorists re-arrested in recent months after returning to terror following their release in the 2011 Gilad Shalit deal, which saw a total of 1,027 terrorists go free.
Abu Marzouk's claims would not be the first time Hamas has tried to trick Israel regarding Mengistu. Recently it attempted to fool Israel, promising to send "the Ethiopian," as they said, to the border – but instead sent over an Eritrean migrant who had landed in Gaza. Israel refused to accept him and the negotiations terminated.
Aside from Mengistu, a Bedouin Arab citizen of Israel is also being held by Hamas, along with the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Likud) stated Monday that no terrorist prisoner swap deals would be made for Mengistu or the Bedouin Israeli, in an additional proof that Mengistu was not a captured soldier.