by AVI ISSACHAROFF and JONATHAN LIS, Haaretz Correspondents, Haaretz Service and News Agencies
Hours after Hamas released an audio message purportedly from Gilad Shalit, the father of the Israel Defense Forces soldier issued a response on the first concrete sign of life of his son since his abduction a year ago.
Addressing the press from his home in Mitzpeh Hila, Noam Shalit said the tape appears to be authentic, although the content was “obviously dictated by his captors.”
“We hope this is a sign that Hamas is genuinely interested in making progress on a deal, and not just a spin ... to divert attention back to Gaza,” added Shalit.
Shalit said that, if Hamas is genuinely interested in talks, he expects Israel to take the necessary steps to make a deal. “It has been a year,” he said. “I think that is enough.”
In a recording posted on a Hamas website, the voice identified as Shalit said he was disappointed over the Israeli government’s lack of interest in his fate.
Shalit added that his health was deteriorating, and that he would need to be hospitalized for a long period of time.
“I am Gilad, son of Noam Shalit, prisoner of the Izz el-Din al-Qassam Kataib [Brigades],” the message began, using the Arabic word for brigades—strengthening suspicions he was reading a dictated statement.
“Mom and Dad, brother and sister, my friends in the IDF—I send my love and miss you all dearly. It has been a year since I was captured, and my health is deteriorating. I am in need of prolonged hospitalization.
“I am sorry for the Israeli government’s and IDF’s lack of interest in me and their rejection of the demands of Izz el-Din al-Qassam [the Hamas armed wing]. It is clear that they must accept their demands if they want me to be released from prison, especially since I was part of a military operation under military instruction and not a drug dealer.
“And just as I have a mother and father, the thousands of Palestinian prisoners also have mothers and fathers—and their children must be returned to them. I have great confidence in my government that they will focus more on my issue and accept the demands of my captors.”
Militants: ‘He is in good health’
The release of the tape on Israel’s Channel 2 television followed an announcement by a Popular Resistance Committees’ spokesman that there would be a “positive surprise” regarding Shalit on Monday, exactly a year after his abduction.
The Popular Resistance Committees is one of three Hamas-linked groups that captured Shalit.
“Shalit is alive and in very good shape,” Abu Mujahid said, “His health is good and he’s stable. We are treating him according to our religion’s instructions on how to deal with war prisoners.” Abu Mujahid also said that Shalit does not need anything and was receiving good treatment.
Shalit, 20, was kidnapped by Palestinian gunmen in a cross-border raid into Israel from the Gaza Strip on June 25, 2006. Prior to Monday, he had not been seen or heard from since he was captured.
The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem declared on Monday, the one-year anniversary of the abduction of Shalit, that holding him hostage was a war crime and that he must be immediately released.
The organization, which mainly works to protect the human rights of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, emphasized in a press release that those involved in the kidnapping bear individual criminal liability for the war crime.
B’Tselem said: “The circumstances of his capture and the behavior of his captors clearly indicate that he is a hostage.”
International humanitarian law absolutely prohibits “the taking and holding of a person by force in order to compel the enemy to meet certain demands, while threatening to harm or kill that person if the demands are not met,” the organization stated.
B’Tselem said that the Hamas leadership has to work for Shalit’s immediate release, and without conditions. Hamas currently controls the entire security apparatus in the Gaza Strip after ousting Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah over a week ago.
Until the soldier’s release, B’Tselem said, his captors have to treat him humanely and grant Red Cross representatives access to him. The organization noted that the prevention of Red Cross’ visits is a “flagrant violation of international law.”
At a near the Knesset to mark Shalit’s abduction Sunday, his father Noam called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to secure his son’s release or step down.
Meanwhile, two other human rights groups criticized Shalit’s abductors.
Doctors for Human Rights called on Hamas to immediately provide Shalit with proper medical treatment.
“Denying him treatment is a serious breach of the Geneva Convention and of medical and human rights ethics. One cannot deny medical treatment from those in need because of negotiations and secrecy,” it said.
Almagor Terror Victims Association said the recording’s release was a “cynical attempt” to exploit the media and influence public opinion and the government to free terrorists.
“Releasing the recording, its timing and content, show terror organizations have thoroughly learnt the weak spots of Israeli society, which runs the risk of a downwards slope of terror attacks and kidnappings if it accepts the despicable blackmail,” it said.
Report: Gilad Shalit held in booby-trapped Gaza building Channel 2 television reported Sunday that Gilad Shalit was being held in the southern Gaza Strip in an underground room inside a booby-trapped building.
The reports said Shalit was being held near Shaboura refugee camp, close to the town of Rafah in the southern part of the coastal territory. The report said the information had come from Hamas sources.
Israeli officials declined to comment and a militant source representing one of the three groups holding Shalit said the report was “speculation and imagination.”
The television report said Shalit was being cared for by two captors with whom he had formed a “cordial” relationship and he was being treated fairly.
Shalit’s living quarters were described as a two-room underground store with enough supplies to last two weeks, accessible down a ladder through a 15-meter deep shaft which the report said was lined with explosives.
It added that the captors receive supplies and newspaper cuttings every two weeks and that they had been ordered to take good care of their prisoner.
Last year, Shalit’s captors refused to accept a pair of eye glasses sent by his parents because they feared they were embedded with miniature electronic devices.