Israel has received proof that an Israeli soldier who was captured and held in the Gaza Strip since 2006 is alive. A video of 23-year-old Sergeant Gilad Shalit aired on Israeli television after Israel released more than a dozen Palestinian female prisoners in a rare deal with the militant group Hamas.
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It was the first glimpse of the
young soldier that Israelis have seen since June 2006 when Palestinian
militants abducted him while he was patrolling along the Gaza border.
A portion of the video aired on Israeli television Friday, showing the soldier dressed in dark civilian clothing, reading a statement that included his Israeli identification card number and gave other information to prove his identity. He also held a newspaper dated September 14th, 2009.
Reading the statement, he said he has been waiting long for his release and hopes the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not waste the opportunity to conclude a deal to free him.
The soldier said he was in good health, and at one point stood up to bring the newspaper he was holding in his hands closer to the camera.
The tape aired repeatedly on television Friday afternoon. It was the proof that Israelis have long been awaiting to know that the soldier is alive.
At a checkpoint in the West Bank, Palestinians cheered and honked their horns to welcome some of the 20 women prisoners who Israel released earlier Friday in exchange for the video of Shalit. Eighteen of the women were released to the West Bank and one to the Gaza Strip. A 20th prisoner was due to be freed on Sunday.
The deal announced Wednesday was brokered by Egyptian and German mediators. It was welcomed by both Palestinians and Israelis as a small first step to what may be further negotiations between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist militant group that rules the Gaza Strip and whose stated aim is the destruction of the Jewish State.
The women released Friday were considered low-level prisoners, some of them held for attempted murder, but none for actually killing Israelis. Some were nearing the end of their sentences.
Hamas wants Israel to release hundreds of other Palestinians - including some high-profile prisoners convicted of direct involvement in multiple killings.
Now that Israelis have proof that their soldier is alive, the possibility of further negotiations opens up - and so does the question of how much Israel is willing to give up to bring Gilad Shalit home.