JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli security officials on Thursday announced they have caught a Hamas militant who fled the Gaza Strip and swam into Israeli waters, confirming weeks of rumors that a Hamas figure had “defected” to Israel.
Israel's Shin Bet security agency said that Izz el-Din Hussein, 24, fled Gaza on June 28 to escape family problems and unspecified “persecution” by Hamas commanders. Israeli naval forces spotted him in the Mediterranean Sea and arrested him before he reached the shore.
The Shin Bet said Hussein joined Hamas' military wing in 2013 and commanded an “air defense” unit that included training with anti-aircraft missiles. It said Hussein had provided Israel a “great deal” of valuable intelligence about Hamas, and on Thursday, he was indicted on “serious” security offenses.
Israeli and Arab media have reported recently that a Hamas militant — perhaps a top commander — had defected to Israel. Hamas officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a secret military issue, have said a low-ranking member fled the territory because of marital issues.
Qandil Badr, an uncle of Hussein's, said the family did not trust the Israeli claims.
“We trust my nephew but there has been no contact with him ever since his disappearance,” he said. ”We need a credible party to visit him and examine his situation.”
Israel and Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel's destruction, have fought three wars and numerous skirmishes since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007.
Associated Press writer Fares Akram in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, contributed to this report.