New Video Shows Kidnapped Israeli Soldier Smiling
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
It's been three and a half years since Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was taken prisoner by Hamas. Today, a video of Shalit was broadcast on Israeli television.
(Soundbite of TV show)
Mr. GILAD SHALIT (Israeli Soldier): (Foreign language spoken)
SIEGEL: He gives his name, his ID number; he speaks of his love for his family. He recalls a prayer that they said together. The now 23-year-old appears thin and pale, with dark circles under his eyes. At one point, he gets up and walks, presumably to show that he's in good physical condition. In exchange for the video, Israel released 19 Palestinian women from prison today. One more will be released on Sunday.
We asked Steven Gutkin, Jerusalem bureau chief for the Associated Press, how the Israelis got the tape.
Mr. STEVEN GUTKIN (Jerusalem Bureau Chief, Associated Press): It was a deal brokered by German and Egyptian mediators. Israel had wanted to see some sign of life from Shalit. And evidently Hamas's response was that they weren't going to get anything for free. So the Germans went, and the Egyptians went back to the Israelis and figured out that maybe there could be a sort of mini swap. In other words, these 20 Palestinian women being released in exchanged for this video.
SIEGEL: So, we assume the video went from Hamas to the Egyptians to the Germans to the Israelis.
Mr. GUTKIN: Whether it was exactly in that order, I don't know. But it certainly did pass through the four mediators. I believe that the German mediators gave Israel the video.
SIEGEL: And the Israelis have no idea where Shalit is?
Mr. GUTKIN: Well, the working assumption is that he is being held somewhere in Gaza, but the exact location - absolutely not.
SIEGEL: And what do we know about the state of negotiations for his eventual release?
Mr. GUTKIN: Well, a lot of people here are saying that this could be a first step toward getting a wider prisoner swap. Hamas is looking for the release of some 1,000 prisoners in Israeli jails. And in some ways, this latest deal could increase the domestic pressure on Israel's prime minister to make the concessions that would be part of the wider deal. That was an extremely emotional video. And it was the type of thing that very much pulled on the heartstrings of average Israelis, nearly all of whom have loved ones in the military.
And so, it's even possible that Netanyahu may have even invited this kind of pressure because he knows he's going to - it's not - it's controversial whether or not he would be able to pay this very high price for Gilad Shalit's release. And he will require a certain amount of domestic backing to be able to make that kind of a move.
SIEGEL: Who were the women released, these 19 - and soon to be 20 - Palestinian women?
Mr. GUTKIN: They are not serious offenders. Most of them, you know, were in jail for relatively minor offenses. And none of them have what Israel calls, you know, blood on their hands. They weren't directly involved in deadly attacks. Quite a few of them were actually scheduled to be released soon anyway. But their reception in the West Bank in Gaza was extremely emotional. The whole issue for Palestinians is one of the most heart-wrenching and emotional issues in their society, where nearly every Palestinian family is affected by the prisoner issue in one way or another. Some 10,000 Palestinians are held in Israeli jails.
SIEGEL: Well, Steven Gutkin, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. GUTKIN: You're welcome. Thank you.
SIEGEL: Steven Gutkin is the Jerusalem bureau chief for the Associated Press.
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