Hamas Releases Tape of Captured Israeli Soldier

The Islamist Hamas movement released an audio recording Monday that it says is of an Israeli soldier captured by the group a year ago. In the tape, the soldier says he needs medical treatment and urges Israel to release Palestinian prisoners.

Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 20, has not been seen or heard from since he was captured. On the audio recording, the voice claims to be Shalit and says his health is deteriorating and that he's sorry that Israel's government has lost interest in him.

Militants affiliated with the Islamic group Hamas seized Shalit and killed two other soldiers June 25, 2006, at an army base after tunneling into Israel from the Gaza Strip. Negotiations for his release, mediated by Egypt, have repeatedly broken down and have been complicated since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip two weeks ago.

"Shalit is alive and in very good shape," said Abu Mujahid, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, one of three Hamas-linked groups that captured Shalit. "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 said Shalit "doesn't need anything" and is receiving the "best treatment."

The militants called for Shalit's family to put pressure on the Israeli government to release Palestinian prisoners in exchange for freeing Shalit. Shalit's father, Noam, said Sunday at a rally calling for his release that the government was not doing enough to bring him home.

If Israel wants Shalit freed, the government should agree to release Palestinian prisoners who are women, children, elderly, sick, leaders of factions and people serving long sentences, Abu Mujahid said.

Israel has agreed to a prisoner swap in principle, but balked at some of the Palestinian demands for the number and type of prisoners to be freed.

Meanwhile, the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem accused the militants holding Shalit of war crimes.

"International humanitarian law absolutely prohibits taking and holding a person by force in order to compel the enemy to meet certain demands, while threatening to harm or kill the person if the demands are not met," the group said. "Furthermore, hostage-taking is considered a war crime."

Hamas is responsible for securing Shalit's release because it effectively controls the security situation in Gaza, B'tselem said. The militants holding the soldier have violated international law further by not allowing Red Cross representatives to visit him, the group said.

Abu Mujahid shrugged off B'tselem's accusations, saying Shalit was captured inside a tank that was used to fight Palestinians.

"Any occupiers on the land are a legitimate target because they are soldiers," Abu Mujahid said. Israel is the one that has committed war crimes by killing Palestinian civilians, he said.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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