GAZA CITY (AFP) – A top Hamas leader has come out against a cartoon posted on the website of the group’s armed wing that implied a captured Israeli soldier may die in its custody.
Senior leader Mahmud al-Zahar said the video released Sunday, in which the captured soldier Gilad Shalit’s father dreams of receiving him in a flag-draped coffin, “does not express the official position of the Hamas movement.”
“We have not and will not kill captive Israeli soldiers,” he told reporters Monday during a meeting with a South African parliamentary delegation. “Our morals and our religion prevent us from doing that.”
The grim three-minute three-dimensional cartoon made by Hamas’s armed wing depicted Shalit’s father visibly ageing as he walks through empty streets beneath billboards of past and future Israeli leaders vowing to free his son.
In the end, he is shown receiving a coffin at the Gaza border before waking up and realising there is still time for a prisoner exchange.
Hamas, which hopes to exchange Shalit for hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, including several political leaders and top militants, has repeatedly said he is alive and being treated well.
Negotiations for a possible exchange appeared to hit a dead end in December, when Israel presented an offer through a German mediator to which Hamas has yet to officially respond. Hamas has blamed Israel for the stalled talks.
Hamas and two other militant groups captured Shalit, now 23, in a deadly cross-border raid in June 2006, and are believed to be holding him in a secret location in the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas since June 2007.
Hamas has killed captive Israeli soldiers in the past, most notably during the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, in 1989, when militants captured and killed soldiers Ilan Saadon and Avi Sasportas.
One of the militants responsible for the killing, Mahmud al-Mabhuh, was killed in a Dubai hotel room earlier this year in a hit widely blamed on Israel’s Mossad spy agency.
Mabhuh, his face covered by a scarf, described the killings in chilling detail in a video aired by Al-Jazeera television after his death.
In October 1994 Hamas gunmen killed Israeli soldier Nachshon Waxman during a botched rescue operation by Israeli special forces after having abducted him days earlier in Jerusalem.