A video of captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit was broadcast on Israeli television on Thursday, showing the gaunt soldier holding a Palestinian newspaper dated September 14, 2009. In the video, Shalit is seen saying that he was feeling healthy and being treated well by his captors.
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In the video, which Israel received from Hamas on Friday in exchange for the release of 20 female Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, Shalit says that he had been reading newspapers in search of information regarding his situation.
He says he has been waiting a long time to be released, and expresses his love for his family. Shalit then recounts a personal anecdote from before his abduction, when his family visited him at his IDF army base.
Earlier Friday, Shalit's family approved the public broadcast of the video footage of their son, saying that Hamas could do what they wanted with the footage, and that they would rather control its release than leave it to Gilad's abductors.
A spokesman for the family told reporters that the family had contacted the Prime Minister's Office, officially permitting the release of the footage to the media.
Prime Minister Netanyahu watched the video of Gilad in his office on Friday. Netanyahu then spoke with Gilad's father, Noam Shalit.
Netanyahu said that the road to freeing Gilad is a long and hard one but the fact that he is healthy is encouraging to everyone.
Local media had earlier quoted Israeli officials as saying that the footage of Shalit showed him to be lucid and in good health.
Senior officers in the Israel Defense Forces and Defense Minister Ehud Barak viewed the video footage, which was handed over by Hamas in Gaza in return for the release of 20 Palestinian woman prisoners jailed in Israel. The video is the first of Shalit since his capture in June 2006.
The video arrived at the Mitzpe Hila home of the Shalit family later Friday, who reportedly viewed the footage together.
A spokesman for the family approached reporters after the family had viewed the video, saying that the family would not respond to the footage on that day.
The family then received a phone call from minister Barak, who spoke to Gilad's father Noam and grandfather Tzvi.
Barak encouraged the Shalit family, adding that "Gilad looks healthy, a fact which only strengthens my resolve, as well as everyone else's to bring him back home."
The video is apparently 2 minutes and 40 seconds long, and was recorded on September 14. China's Xinhua news agency said Thursday that the video shows Shalit in civilian dress against the background of a banner emblazoned with the logo of Hamas' military wing.
"The tape clearly shows that the captive soldier enjoys a good health and show[s] no sign of wounds," Xinhua's English edition quoted a source in Gaza as saying.
Shalit was captured by Gaza-based militants in 2006, during a cross-border raid. Red Cross officials have been denied permission to see the soldier.
Israel ordered the release of 19 Palestinian woman prisoners on Friday after it had verified that the video had indeed met its demands.
Members of the Israeli negotiating team for Shalit's release viewed the footage to ensure it met Israel's demands - primarily with regard to how recently it was filmed. The Israeli media reported that a copy of the video was also to be dispatched to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
As soon as it was determined that the video did indeed meet requirements, the Palestinian prisoners were transferred to Red Cross vehicles which finalized their release by transporting them over the border with the West Bank.
The 19 prisoners, most of the total of 20 expected to be released in the deal, left Hadarim Prison near Netanya at 9:30 A.M. and arrived at the Ofer and Shikma detention facilities ahead of their final release.
The last prisoner will be released only on Sunday, due to an error by the Israel Prisons Service. It emerged that one of the women slated for release under the deal had in fact already been released on Wednesday, after having a third deducted from her sentence for good behavior. Therefore, Israel must now find a substitute.