Israeli officials harshly criticized an Egyptian television interview with soldier Gilad Shalit minutes after Hamas militants freed him in a prisoner swap Tuesday, saying the questioning was inappropriate and insensitive.
In the interview aired on Egyptian state television, a gaunt, sallow and uncomfortable looking Shalit appeared to struggle to speak at times, and his breathing was noticeably labored as he awkwardly answered questions. The footage, along with earlier Egyptian TV video showing Shalit being transferred to Egypt, were the first images seen of the soldier after more than five years in Hamas captivity.
Armed Hamas militants were in the area during the interview. One of them stood behind Shalit's chair, wearing a black face mask and a green headband of the Qassam brigades, Hamas' military wing, with a video camera in his hand.
"You have known what it is like to be in captivity," the interviewer Shahira Amin said to Shalit. "There are more than 5,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails. Will you help campaign for their release?" she asked.
"What has the experience brought you? Has it made you stronger?" she asked at another point. And, brushing aside the fact Hamas had barred anyone from visiting Shalit, she asked him why he only gave one interview while held captive.
An Israeli official questioned the ethics of the journalists involved.
"We are all shocked that a so-called interview was forced on (Shalit) before he could even talk to his family or set foot on Israeli soil," the Israeli official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing a sensitive diplomatic matter, but said the sentiment was widely shared in official Israeli ranks.
An Egyptian security official claimed that the Egyptian information minister asked the intelligence chief for an exclusive interview with Shalit. According to the official, Israel allowed only one cameraman from Egyptian TV to film inside the tent where Egyptian and Israeli intelligence officials were meeting with Shalit. It was not a condition in the deal but a request from Egypt. The interviewer said it was not coerced.
An ashen-faced Schalit answered a range of questions on his captivity and what he thought of the 1,027 Palestinian prisoners released for his freedom.
He was then handed over to Israeli officials and only then given a medical examination, where doctors determined he showed signs of malnutrition and lack of exposure to sunlight.
He called his family shortly afterwards.
Israeli media discussed the interview at length, with commentators calling it insensitive.
Channel 10 commentator and presenter Raviv Drucker said her questions would "likely win the title of the stupidest questions of the past 100 years."
"It wasn't the most sensitive thing to do. An interview forced on a prisoner just released is a low thing to do," Drucker said.
Israeli TV anchor Yonit Levy called the interview "borderline torture"
Amin, who conducted the interview, told Israel's Channel 10 TV that she would not have forced Schalit to speak if he didn't want to, and he seemed willing to do so.
Nonetheless, "he seemed extremely tired, thin and pale, voice very faint, very difficult to concentrate. I had to repeat the questions several times," Amin told The Associated Press. She acknowledged that he was accompanied by Hamas gunmen when he arrived for the interview.
Earlier this week, major Israeli media outlets agreed not to disseminate new video or photos of the Shalits for 10 days following the release.
Amin said on the BBC World Service's World Have Your Say on Tuesday that she had asked to conduct the interview on her program, and the Egyptian information minister said it would be arranged.
I met with intelligence officials yesterday and they said it would happen but didn't know if [the interview] would go ahead until the last minute. I wasn't aware anyone had actually forced Shalit into doing this, she added.
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