Netanyahu asks Ethiopia to help secure release of Israeli captive in Gaza

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday asked Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn for help in securing the release of Avera Mengistu, an Israeli of Ethiopian origin who crossed into Gaza about two years ago and is believed to be held by Hamas.

“We always raise the issue of our citizens at various opportunities including here, of course,” said Netanyahu, visiting as part of a four-country tour of Africa, after meeting with the prime minister.

Netanyahu promised a new era in Israeli-Ethiopian relations during his visit. “I am personally very proud to be the first Israeli Prime Minister to visit Ethiopia I think in over 30 years, we are not waiting even 30 years,” he said. “We are committed to enhancing our partnership and our friendship in concrete ways. This is not just a one shot thing. It’s not just statements. It is a plan for concrete cooperation in areas that are important for both our peoples.”

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On Friday, Netanyahu’s push for his country to be granted “observer status” at the African Union gained Ethiopia’s backing.

“Israel is working very hard in many African countries. There is no reason to deny this observer position to Israel,” Desalegn said on Thursday.

The position of observer is granted to some non-African countries who wish to engage with the AU, follow proceedings and address its gatherings. Israel had been an observer at the AU’s predecessor organization but its status was not renewed at the AU’s founding in 2002.

Avraham Mengistu is one of two Israeli civilians whose suspected captivity in the Hamas terrorists-ruled Gaza Strip was revealed last year after a gag order was lifted.

The defense ministry confirmed that Mengistu, of Ethiopian descent, was missing, presumed held captive, since crossing into Gaza in September 2014.