GAZA (Reuters) – An Israeli soldier captured a year ago by militants from Gaza asked for medical treatment and urged Israel to release Palestinian prisoners, in an audio tape posted on the Internet on Monday.
Except for a handwritten letter to his parents in September, there had been no sign of life from Gilad Shalit since the tank gunner was spirited into the Gaza Strip by gunmen who tunneled across the border into Israel on June 25, 2006.
“I have been in prison for an entire year and my health is deteriorating. I need lengthy hospitalization,” Shalit, speaking in Hebrew, said on the tape.
“I regret the lack of interest of the Israeli government and military in my case and their failure to meet the demands.”
Shalit’s father, speaking to Israeli television, confirmed the voice was that of his son, a conscript now aged 20. He was promoted to sergeant from corporal while in captivity.
Hamas, one of three militant groups that claimed responsibility for the joint operation in which Shalit was seized, said earlier it would release the tape to mark the first anniversary of his capture.
On the tape, Shalit called on Israel to make a deal for his release.
“Just as I have parents, a mother and father, thousands of Palestinian detainees have mothers and fathers whose sons must be returned to them,” the voice said.
Negotiations brokered by Egypt have been suspended in recent months amid Palestinian internal fighting in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas now rules alone, and Israeli-Palestinian violence.
“We have been flexible in every possible way when it came to a swap deal, but the Israeli side was too weak to make a decision,” senior Hamas official Osama al-Muzaini said.
“The ball is now in the Israeli court.”
One of the groups that captured Shalit, the Army of Islam, part of an array of militants that mingle within Gaza’s clan structures, also holds British journalist Alan Johnston.
Johnston appeared in a Web video on Sunday saying he was strapped with explosives that would be detonated if Hamas leaders carried out threats to free him by force.
Abu Mujahed, spokesman of the Popular Resistance Committees that also took part in last year’s cross-border raid, said the factions must celebrate the first anniversary of the abduction by kidnapping additional Israeli soldiers so they could be exchanged for more than 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails.
“The soldier Shalit will never be freed before we see our prisoners freed and among us,” he said at a rally attended by dozens of families of Palestinians held by Israel.