Palestinian militants say captured Israeli soldier in "good health"
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – After six months of silence, Palestinian militants holding a captured Israeli soldier released the first details of the serviceman’s condition Tuesday, saying he is in “good health” and being treated according to “Islamic standards.”However, the militants said they are prepared to keep the soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, until Israel meets their demand for the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.The impasse has held up peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians.Abu Mujahid, spokesman for the Palestinian Resistance Committees, made the first official announcement about the soldier’s condition. “Gilad Shalit is in good health and is being treated according to Islamic standards of dealing with prisoners of war,” he said. “We are ready to keep him for years, as long as our demands are not met.”The militants did not furnish proof to back their statement that the soldier is in good health. Israeli officials were not available for comment.The soldier was captured in a June 25 raid by Hamas-linked militants, who tunneled under the Gaza-Israel border and attacked an Israeli army post, killing two soldiers and taking Shalit with them. The PRC is one of three groups claiming responsibility.The raid set off harsh Israeli reprisals and five months of violence, largely ended by a cease-fire at the end of November, although Gaza militants continue firing some rockets at Israel.Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he is prepared to release some of the more than 9,000 Palestinian prisoners Israel is holding, but only after Shalit returns home. Egypt has been trying to mediate a deal, and during a recent trip to Israel, the Egyptian foreign minister said Shalit is still alive.Abu Mujahid said the militants haven’t softened their demand for the release of 1,000 prisoners, as well as all women, elderly and minors being held by Israel. “These demands won’t change, in a day or two or a month or a year,” he said.He did not elaborate on the “Islamic standards” of treating a prisoner. In a religious ruling issued two years ago after a wave of beheadings of hostages in Iraq, Islamic scholars decreed that prisoners of war must be well treated and must not be killed unless the head of a Muslim state gives the order.There was a new wave of kidnappings in northern Gaza on Tuesday, rival Palestinian groups said. Hamas said three of its men were abducted in the town of Beit Lahiya, and Fatah said two of its members were taken. All were later released. Also, Fatah said one of its leaders in northern Gaza survived an assassination attempt when gunmen opened fire on his car.Late Monday night, Fatah loyalists kidnapped five Hamas members at gunpoint in the same area. All were released unharmed.More than 30 people have been killed in factional violence between the ruling Islamic Hamas and moderate President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah in the past month, including a Hamas militant who died Tuesday from wounds sustained in fighting last week, medical officials said.Hamas has accused Abbas of trying to engineer a coup against the current Hamas-led government by threatening to hold new elections. Abbas announced his plans for early elections after talks over a unity government collapsed.On Tuesday, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called on Abbas to resign, “because he failed to achieve anything.”The Israeli army said Tuesday it has reopened a cargo crossing in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley to allow Palestinian farmers to ship their produce more easily. The crossing had been closed for a year because of security concerns, forcing farmers to use a much longer route to export their produce.At a meeting with Abbas two weeks ago, Olmert promised to ease travel restrictions in the West Bank.Israel’s Interior Ministry said Tuesday the population of Jewish settlements in the West Bank increased 5.8 percent in 2006, to 268,379. About 2.4 million Palestinians live in the West Bank.Israel is supposed to have frozen construction in settlements according to the internationally backed “road map” peace plan, but Israel insists it must build to accommodate natural growth, despite the plan’s ban.
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