Video released shows Israeli soldier held hostage since '06

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skafather84
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02 Oct 2009, 12:23 pm

JERUSALEM - Hamas militants handed over a two-minute video showing a healthy-looking Israeli soldier held captive since 2006, and in exchange Israel freed 19 Palestinian women prisoners on Friday — the first tangible step toward defusing a key flashpoint in Israeli-Palestinian hostilities.

In the video Sgt. Gilad Schalit says that he is being treated well by his Palestinian captors and sends his love to his parents.

Schalit appears thin but is able to stand unaided. He appeals to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bring him home, reading from a sheet of paper while holding a Palestinian newspaper dated Sept. 14 to show when the footage was made.

An Israeli official who saw the video said the 23-year-old looked good and spoke lucidly about something from his past. He gave no further details, and spoke on condition of anonymity because the footage had not been released to the public.
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It was the first glimpse of Schalit since his capture nearly 3 1/2 years ago. Before Friday, the only signs of life had been three letters and an audio tape.

Local media, citing officials who had seen the video, reported that Schalit held up an Arabic language newspaper dated Sept. 14, 2009 — Hamas' proof the footage was taken recently. It was not clear if Schalit was reading from a text or speaking off the cuff, though no notes could be seen in the video. The young man addressed his parents and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the video, the media reported.

Swap predicted
The prisoners' triumphant return home to a flag waving and cheering crowd, together with the video's arrival in Israel, gave hope to each side that a wider, long-awaited prisoner swap is now in the offing.

Hamas is demanding freedom for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners as their price for Schalit, whose capture in a bloody cross-border raid has touched a raw nerve in a country where most families have loved ones in the military.

Friday's deal could also herald an end to a crippling, Israel-led blockade of Gaza, which has prevented the territory from rebuilding after Israel's winter war there.

Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas, a violent group backed by Iran and Syria, seized power in Gaza two years ago. Israel has made it clear that it will not ease the embargo before the serviceman is freed.

About 200 people waving Palestinian flags greeted vans carrying 18 of the women into the West Bank. The prisoners, wearing the headscarves of devout Muslim women, blew kisses to the crowd through the vehicles' open windows.

Prisoners greeted
Later, the prisoners were greeted by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his walled compound, as elated relatives threw fistfuls of candy in the air.

Zhour Hamdan, arrested in 2003, was reunited with her eight children and saw her first granddaughter, 1-year-old Selina, for the first time. Her daughter Nasreen, 26, said she hadn't been able to visit her mother for more than a year because of Israeli movement restrictions.

"It's indescribable," Nasreen said of the reunion. "We are preparing a tremendous celebration at home."

Another woman, 41-year-old Fatima Ziq, returned to her home in Gaza City, where she received a hero's welcome and was greeted by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in a chaotic scene.

Ziq, a mother of nine, carried her youngest, Yousef, who was born in prison, as Haniyeh led her into his office. Haniyeh put a string of bright red carnations around her neck, and then tried to do the same to Yousef, who recoiled and cried out.

Haniyeh said Friday's swap "opens the door of hope to achieve an honorable deal between the Palestinian resistance and the Israeli occupation."

"I believe that this is a trusted step on the road to liberating all of our prisoners from the occupation's prisons," he added.

Another release
Yet another prisoner will be released to Gaza on Sunday, bringing to 20 the total number of women freed as part of the exchange, Israel's prisons service said.

The women had been jailed for relatively minor offenses and were close to release. Only a few were members of militant groups, and most were assigned supporting roles, such as helping bombers reach their targets, said Bothaina Duqmaq, a prisoners' rights activist in the West Bank,

Israel's lead negotiator in prisoner swap talks viewed the video first in Tel Aviv to determine its authenticity. The video was then transferred to Jerusalem, where Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak viewed it.

A copy of the disc was also delivered by helicopter to the Schalit family in northern Israel. Channel 1 TV said Schalit appeared healthy and clean-shaven, and that his hair had been trimmed.

Reporters and cameramen thronged the Schalit home as an army general walked with a manila envelope carrying the video inside. Policemen stood guard outside the house, which was shown continuously on Israeli TV stations.

A spokeswoman for the family said the Schalits would have no public comment on Friday.

Border raid
Schalit was captured in June 2006 by Hamas-linked militants in Gaza who tunneled under the border into Israel, killed two other soldiers and dragged him bleeding into Palestinian territory.

Israel and Hamas shun each other, and German and Egyptian mediators have been acting as go-betweens in swap talks.

Israel had said the women would not be freed unless the video disc met three criteria: It had to be provably recent, Schalit had to be talking clearly into the camera, and the footage had to be at least a minute long.

The footage will not be shown to the public if the family doesn't want it released, and even if they agree, it wasn't clear whether it would be aired on Friday, an Israeli official said.

Hamas has said it must receive permission from the German mediator before authorizing the release of copies of the videotape to the media.

Israel has said Friday's deal was suggested by mediators as a "confidence-building measure." But Israeli officials have predicted that negotiations for a final deal would be long and difficult.

The Palestinians want Israel to trade up to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for Schalit, including many convicted of deadly attacks on Israelis. Talks have snagged over the specific prisoners the Palestinians want freed and where they are to go after their release.

Still, both Hamas and Israel appear eager to wrap up a deal.

Painful chapter
Schalit's return would end a painful chapter in Israel, where military service is compulsory and his long captivity has touched a raw nerve.

Many Israelis have rallied behind the soldier and his family, holding protests calling for his release and decorating their cars with bumper stickers bearing his name. As speculation about a possible prisoner swap grows, however, arguments against his release have grown louder, because of the high price Israel would have to pay.

Hamas' profile, meanwhile, would be raised in Palestinian territories by the loosening of the blockade and the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

Prisoners enjoy an eminent status in Palestinian society because so many families have members in Israeli jails. A large-scale release would be a coup for Hamas as it jockeys for power against the moderate government led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.
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Amazing that he's been held hostage for so long.


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xenon13
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02 Oct 2009, 10:52 pm

Hamas treats its prisoners of war better than Israel treats the people of Gaza, that's for sure. What with the enforced shortages there, it would have been easy to put him on a near-starvation diet...



EC
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03 Oct 2009, 6:28 am

xenon13 wrote:
Hamas treats its prisoners of war better than Israel treats the people of Gaza, that's for sure.


...I don't think the human shields that are the population of Gaza will necessarily agree on that.



skafather84
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03 Oct 2009, 9:45 am

EC wrote:
xenon13 wrote:
Hamas treats its prisoners of war better than Israel treats the people of Gaza, that's for sure.


...I don't think the human shields that are the population of Gaza will necessarily agree on that.


[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMR5D9HfsJE[/youtube]


Human shields?


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EC
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03 Oct 2009, 10:50 am

skafather84 wrote:
Human shields?


Yeah, Hamas uses civilians, their homes, hospitals, U.N buildings, etc as cover to launch their attacks from, so I don't think Hamas cares much about the people of Gaza. Also, I don't see how that video is relevant.



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04 Oct 2009, 12:31 am

Gaza does not present a large choice of ground from which to launch attacks... it is one of the most densely populated places in the world. An Israeli minister famously said they were putting Gaza on a "diet" to make it "skinny" or something like that... not a very friendly thing to say, and why? It's because of the whole "right to exist" nonsense that has never been demanded of any party to any conflict anywhere ever, and was the invention of Henry Kissinger... hardly someone of credibility... Kissinger made it up after the PLO said it accepted the two state solution... so there had to be some other excuse for refusing to make peace.



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04 Oct 2009, 3:27 am

xenon13 wrote:
Gaza does not present a large choice of ground from which to launch attacks... it is one of the most densely populated places in the world. An Israeli minister famously said they were putting Gaza on a "diet" to make it "skinny" or something like that... not a very friendly thing to say, and why? It's because of the whole "right to exist" nonsense that has never been demanded of any party to any conflict anywhere ever, and was the invention of Henry Kissinger... hardly someone of credibility... Kissinger made it up after the PLO said it accepted the two state solution... so there had to be some other excuse for refusing to make peace.


The Hamas types do not care how many of their buddies, and even innocent folks (such as children) they get killed. One of the responses to rocket attack is counter-battery fire.

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04 Oct 2009, 5:27 pm

It's indubitable that the Israeli leadership were happy to sacrifice their people in suicide bombings for the purpose of pursuing a maximalist policy. Ariel Sharon famously broke off the Preventative Security mechanism and then bombed Palestinian police and prisons... then awaited the parade of suicide bombings that predictably happened. This in turn was used to justify the attacks waged in the occupied territories and the other atrocious policies that have been implemented.