Hamas tape shows ‘healthy’ Israeli soldier

JERUSALEM: An Israeli soldier held by Hamas in Gaza for three years appears healthy in a video handed over to the Israeli authorities, officials say.

Gilad Shalit appeared in the video with trimmed hair holding a paper dated 14 September, Israel’s Channel 10 said. Israel has released 19 female Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the video.

Eighteen of the prisoners were handed over in the West Bank today and another was released in Gaza.

The prisoners were not to be freed until officials had seen the video. Israeli radio reported that the country’s chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, viewed the tape before it was delivered to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

These would be the first images seen of the 23-year-old since he was captured by Hamas militants three years ago. An audiotape and three letters have been released since his capture in 2006, the most recent dated in 2008.

The Egyptian-brokered talks have failed to produce a deal for his release. German mediators joined the talks, between Hamas and Israel, in July. The female Palestinian prisoners are described as low-profile detainees, most of whom were coming to the end of their sentences.

Most were jailed for carrying knives or guns, some with involvement in suicide bombings. In total, 20 are to be released under the deal, but the last prisoner is to be freed on Sunday after one of the women on the initial list was freed independently by the prison service.

Eighteen women were freed in the West Bank, while one, a woman who was pregnant when arrested, was released in Gaza along with her two-year-old son.

It is thought that the tape was sent to Egypt with a Hamas delegation.

It is unclear whether the tape will be released to the public. Israeli reports suggest the decision will not be made until Israeli leaders and the Shalit family have viewed the footage. Hamas has never allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross access to verify Shalit’s wellbeing.