Jerusalem: A senior Israeli adviser has apologised for telling relatives of a citizen reportedly held captive by Hamas that he would suffer if they went public, an official said Friday.
"He has apologised for both the tone and content of the conversation," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The defence ministry confirmed on Thursday that Avraham Mengistu, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent, had been missing, presumed held captive, since crossing into the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip last September.
His ordeal had been kept under wraps for 10 months until the lifting of a gag order allowed Israeli media to break the news of the country`s latest hostage crisis on Thursday.
The private Channel 10 television later aired audio of Lior Lotan -- coordinator of prisoner of war and missing in action affairs in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s office -- haranguing Mengistu`s family.
Mengistu is one of two Israeli citizens revealed Thursday to be missing, and believed held captive, in Gaza.
The second is an Israeli Arab, about whom details are still under wraps even after the gag order was lifted on both cases.
Mengistu belongs to Israel`s 135,000-strong ethnic Ethiopian community which says it suffers from racism and discrimination.
Members have staged several rallies against alleged police brutality and racism in recent months, some of which turned violent.
"Anyone who makes Avera into a story about relations between the Ethiopian community and the state of Israel will leave him in Gaza for another year," Lotan is heard telling Mengistu`s family, using the name by which he is known to friends and relatives.
"If we aren`t together, we will make mistakes and Hamas will translate them into another year or another price," he said.
Israeli media condemned the comments as patronising and insensitive.
"I cannot recall a conversation as repulsive as the one we heard yesterday," Sima Kadmon wrote in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot.
"All he had to say to them sounded like a series of threats and intimidations."
In 2011, Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for soldier Gilad Shalit, who had been held by Hamas for five years.
Writing in Maariv, commentator Eitan Haber, an adviser to late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, said Netanyahu was anxious to avoid a reprise of that affair, which saw public opinion sharply divided for and against the mass release.
"The prime minister did not and does not want to repeat the same manoeuvre in which dozens of life prisoners, who were supposed to take their last breath within the confines of an Israeli prison, were freed," Haber wrote.
"(He) understood that publicity was a double-edged sword, and was raising the price of any Israeli being held by terror organisations across the border."