Friday, October 2, 2009

Video Shows Gilad Shalit Alive; Netanyahu: "The video is an encouraging sign"

After over three years in which IDF St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit has been held in Hamas captivity in the Gaza Strip, Israel breathed a sigh of relief on Friday afternoon after video footage of the captive soldier was released to the media and aired on Israeli television channels.

The video was received in return for the release of 20 Palestinian female prisoners. Israel released 19 of them on Friday morning, 18 to the West Bank and one to Gaza.

In the video, Schalit is seen clean shaven with a fresh haircut, wearing black clothes. The two-minute long clip shows Schalit addressing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his parents Noam and Aviva.

"Hello,I am Gilad son of Noam and Aviva Schalit, brother of Hadas and Yoel, who lives in Mitzpe Hila. My ID number is 300097029," Schalit says.

"As you see I am holding in my hands the Palestine newspaper of September 14, 2009, published in Gaza. I am reading the paper in order to find information regarding myself, hoping to find some information from which I would learn of my release and upcoming return home. I have been hoping and waiting for the day of me release for a long time. I hope the current government under Binyamin Netanyahu will not waste the chance to finalize a deal, and I will therefore be able to finally have my dream come true and be released," he goes on.

The captive soldier refers to the evening of December 31, 2005, on which his father Noam, and his siblings Hadas and Yoel visited him at his military base in the Golan Heights. He recalls showing his family around the base, pictures his father took of him on a tank, and says he remembers that on their way to a restaurant, they took a photograph of the snowcapped Hermon Mountain.

Schalit addresses the camera directly, and before the end of the footage walks up to the camera and then returns to his chair. He also appears relaxed, not terrified.

By 12:30, Netanyahu's appointee on the Schalit case, Hagai Hadas, reached the Prime Minister's official residence in Jerusalem with the footage. OC Manpower Division Maj.-Gen. Avi Zamir arrived by helicopter with a copy of the video at the Schalit residence in Mitzpe Hila, where he was scheduled to view the video with the family.

The Prime Minister's Office issued a statement following the release of the clip.

"Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu watched the video of Gilad Schalit in his office and has spoken with Noam Schalit,The prime minister believes the importance of the tape is in putting the responsibility for Gilad's health and wellbeing squarely on Hamas's shoulders. The prime minister says that even though the the release of Schalit is still far from us, the video is an encouraging sign."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke with Noam Schalit and Zvi Schalit, Gilad's grandfather, at around 2 p.m., just minutes after the family viewed the video, according to a statement issued by Barak's office.

The defense minister told the Schalits "I want to hug you. Gilad looks healthy, and this fact only further puts into focus my own responsibility and the responsibility of all of us to bring him home."