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Israel's president holds talks on Iran and Hamas hostages during EU visit

In Brussels, Herzog was expected to raise the issue of two Israeli nationals — Avera Mengistu and Hisham Al-Sayed — captured by Hamas
Israeli President Isaac Herzog meets with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Brussels, Jan. 25, 2023.

BRUSSELS — Israeli President Isaac Herzog met Wednesday in Brussels with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. He urged the European leadership to take a stronger position on Iran and discussed the issue of Israeli captives held by Hamas.

Herzog arrived in Belgium on Wednesday morning for a two-day visit. On Thursday he is set to address the European Parliament on the occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and then to meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Ahead of the meeting with von der Leyen, Belgium's King Philippe hosted Herzog at the royal palace. In both meetings, Herzog emphasized the danger Iran poses to the stability of the region and the world as it races toward nuclear capabilities, supports global terrorism and supplies Russia with weapons it's using against the Ukrainian people.

Herzog's visit comes on the backdrop of a push in Europe against Iran. The European Parliament called last week on European leaders to add the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to the European list of terror organizations and to increase sanctions against Iranian figures linked to human rights violations in the country.

The council of European foreign ministers, which convened on Monday, did not take action to blacklist the IRGC, but did adopt a fourth wave of sanctions against Iran, with 37 personalities and entities added to the sanctions list. European Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell explained that for a group to be blacklisted, a qualified European court must first designate it as a terror entity. On the issue of talks on a new nuclear deal with Iran, Borrell said the deal is stalled.

"The deal is not dead, but it’s not moving," the EU official said. 

Before departing to Brussels, Herzog said Iran will top the agenda but mentioned the issue of hostages as well.

“I shall of course raise the enormous challenge facing us and the whole Middle East in the form of Iran...I shall also raise the issue of hostages and MIAs, our sons, whom we call for Hamas to release immediately and return to Israel," he said.

Herzog was referring to the bodies of two IDF soldiers — Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul — held by Hamas since 2014, and two Israeli nationals — Avera Mengistu and Hisham Al-Sayed — captured by Hamas upon crossing the border into the Gaza Strip on 2014 and 2015, respectively. This month, Hamas published a video purported to show Mengistu pleading to be released. Israel did not confirm outright that the person appearing in the video was indeed Mengistu, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the video proved what Israel had claimed all along, that Mengistu is indeed alive.

Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar, close to Hezbollah, reported on Wednesday that Hamas is hoping to strike a prisoner-exchange deal with the Netanyahu government. That was the reason, read the report, that the group published the video last week.

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