French-Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit's parents received a handwritten letter from him, in the first evidence since 2007 that the Hamas-held soldier is alive. The Carter Centre received the letter following talks with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.
The parents of Corporal Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held by Gaza militants for two years, were passed a handwritten letter from their son on Monday, the foundation of former US president Jimmy Carter announced.
The Carter Centre said that its office in the West Bank town of Ramallah received the letter on Sunday in accordance with an undertaking given to the former US president in April by Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of the Islamist Hamas movement which is holding the soldier.
"President Carter and his staff will attempt to arrange for a return letter from Shalit’s parents to their son and hope that an arrangement enabling Gilad Shalit’s release will be reached soon," the foundation added.
The letter was the first evidence Hamas had provided that Shalit remained alive since a recording released on June 25 last year in which the soldier said his health was deteriorating and called on the government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to make greater efforts for his release.
In an interview with British satellite channel Sky News on March 31, Meshaal insisted Shalit was alive and being well treated.
Carter had come in for strong Israeli and US criticism for his two rounds of talks with the Hamas leader in the Syrian capital Damascus.
Both governments consider Hamas a terror group despite its upset victory in 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections.
But Carter insisted at the time that his meetings had yielded specific results and said he had secured Hamas's agreement to permit Shalit to send a letter to his parents.
"Through more official consultations with these outlawed leaders, it may yet be possible to revive and expedite the stalemated peace talks between Israel and its neighbours," Carter wrote in the New York Times.
Israeli leaders have demanded information on the well-being of the captive soldier as one of the conditions for its agreement to a truce with Palestinian militants in and around the Gaza Strip.
Egyptian-brokered negotiations between Israel and Hamas on the proposed truce have dragged on for months.
Israel is demanding assurances that militant groups will not use any truce to rearm by smuggling in weaponry from Egypt.
Hamas is demanding that Israel ease the blockade which it imposed after the Islamists seized control of Gaza last June and allow the opening of border crossings, particularly the Rafah crossing with Egypt, the territory's only one that bypasses Israel.
Hamas is also insisting that any negotiations on a prisoner exchange for Shalit be kept separate from the truce talks.
It gave Egyptian go-betweens a list of 450 prisoners it wanted freed but Israel rejected most of the names, saying that they had been found guilty of killing Israelis.
Hamas official Mussa Abu Marzuk has since been quoted as proposing that Israel release only 350 prisoners.
Shalit was seized in a deadly cross-border raid from Gaza on June 25, 2006. Three militant groups claimed the attack, one of them Hamas.
Date created : 2008-06-09