Tanzania seeks Israeli help to find missing students in Gaza

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Tanzania’s Foreign Minister January Makamba on Tuesday said he had obtained a “personal commitment” from his Israeli counterpart to locate two Tanzanian students who went missing a month ago amid the resumption of hostilities with Palestine.

The Israeli government has named agricultural interns Joshua Loitu Mollel and Clemence Felix Mtenga among hundreds of hostages being held by the Palestine militant group Hamas in Gaza since October 7 when it attacked Israeli territory, triggering a wave of deadly retaliatory attacks.

Tanzanian authorities are yet to officially acknowledge the kidnapping possibility, maintaining only that two of its estimated 260 nationals in Israel have remained accounted for since the Hamas attack.

But tweeting on his own X (formerly Twitter) handle, Mr Makamba said earlier on Tuesday he spoke to Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen who “promised his personal commitment to intensified effort by Israeli government to locate the two Tanzanian students whom we lost touch with since October 7.”

He said the two ministers also discussed Israel’s approach to the ongoing Gaza conflict and related issues.

“I reiterated Tanzania’s position that priority should be given to (a) observance of international humanitarian law, particularly the protection of civilian lives, (b) cessation of military operations to permit unfettered humanitarian efforts, and (c) resumption of peace process with two-states solution as its pillar,” Mr. Makamba said.

About 1,400 people were reportedly killed in the Hamas attack on southern Israel and more than 230 others were kidnapped and taken over the border into the Palestine Gaza strip where Hamas later said it had hidden them in “safe places and tunnels” within the strip.

Israel retaliated with a barrage of continuous air strikes on Gaza that by Tuesday had resulted in almost 10,000 deaths, according to figures released by Gaza’s Health Ministry.

In its October 29 statement, which was also issued via X, the Israeli government said the hostages being held by Hamas included Israelis and nationals from 24 other countries including Tanzania. Four of them have since been released, including an 85-year-old Israeli woman who was kidnapped alongside her husband.

Tanzanian authorities responded that they would work “working with relevant authorities and other parties” to ascertain the whereabouts of the two missing students and secure their safety.

“These efforts are ongoing, and we are in constant communication with their families to update them on these efforts,” the foreign ministry said in a November 2 statement.

Nine Tanzanians living in Israel were voluntarily evacuated in an operation mounted by the government in mid-October and the Tanzanian embassy in Tel Aviv has said it is maintaining regular contact with other Tanzanians who have chosen to remain in Israel amid all the mayhem.

Makamba said he and his Israeli counterpart had also agreed to “stay in touch” on further developments regarding the war situation and the two missing Tanzanians.

Tanzania was among countries that last week endorsed a United Nations (UN) resolution to press for an immediate ceasefire that would prevent a “humanitarian catastrophe” due to the ongoing Israeli bombings on Gaza.

Several countries have gone so far as to recall their envoys from Israel indefinitely, but Chad and South Africa are the only ones from Africa to have taken that step, the latter describing it as “normal practice” in order to get a “full briefing” of the situation on the ground before deciding whether to cut ties altogether or not.

Tanzania severed its own bilateral relations with Israel and became strong supporters of the Palestinian cause following the 1973 Yom Kippur War when first president Julius Nyerere was at the helm. But the relations were re-established in 1995 under his successor Ali Hassan Mwinyi.

They were strengthened further in 2017 when Tanzania opened its first embassy in Tel Aviv during the John Magufuli presidency. However, Israel has yet to establish a reciprocal diplomatic station in Dar es Salaam and continues to liaise with Tanzania through its mission in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

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