One of the Palestinian militant groups that captured an Israeli soldier last summer said Tuesday that the serviceman is in “good health,” the first time it has given details about his condition.
But Abu Mujahid, spokesman for the Palestinian Resistance Committees, said Cpl. Gilad Shalit would not be freed until Israel gives in to demands to release more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
“Gilad Shalit is in good health and is being treated according to Islamic standards of dealing with prisoners of war,” he said. “He has been in custody for 6½ months and we are ready to keep him for years, so long as our demands are not met.”
He did not elaborate on the “Islamic standards” of treating a prisoner, nor did he offer any proof about Shalit’s condition.
The PRC was one of three militant groups linked to the Islamic militant group Hamas that tunneled into Israel from the Gaza Strip on June 25 and captured Shalit. The abduction triggered a five-month Israeli offensive in Gaza, but Shalit has not been publicly seen or heard from since his capture.
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.
Deadly factional violence
Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a truce in Gaza in late November, just as internal Palestinian tensions erupted into violence.
More than 30 people have been killed in factional violence between Hamas and Fatah in the past month, including a Hamas militant who died Tuesday from wounds sustained in fighting last week, medical officials said.
The rival Palestinian groups have been locked in a power struggle since the Islamist Hamas defeated the more moderate Fatah in parliamentary elections last year. Hamas controls the legislature and most government functions, while Fatah holds the powerful presidency.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas favors peace talks with Israel, while Hamas rejects the Jewish state’s right to exist.
Abbas tried for months to persuade Hamas to join Fatah in a more moderate unity government, but negotiations collapsed in late November, touching off the latest round of infighting. He hopes a more moderate government could induce the West and Israel to lift crippling economic sanctions on the Palestinian Authority.
The clashes have included retaliatory kidnappings of late.
On Monday night, Fatah loyalists kidnapped five Hamas members at gunpoint in the northern Gaza Strip. All five were released unharmed hours later.
Hamas lawmaker Mushir al-Masri cautioned after the kidnapping that the renewal of violence would only increase tensions between the factions. “Tension and escalation will only serve the interests of the occupation and the coup-seekers,” he said.
Abbas accused of engineering a 'coup'
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 the unity talks collapsed.
While most of the violence has been limited to the Gaza Strip, Hamas’ stronghold, clashes have begun to spread to the West Bank, where Fatah is dominant.
Israel has been trying to boost Abbas in his standoff against the Islamic group.
On Tuesday, the army said it reopened a cargo crossing in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley to allow local 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 to improve conditions for Palestinians. Israel says it has begun removing some of the hundreds of roadblocks in the area, but Palestinians say there has been little change in their daily lives.