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Message released from captured Israeli soldier

A Hamas Web site posted an audio message on Monday from an Israeli soldier captured a year ago by militants allied with the Islamic group -- the first sign from him since he was seized at an army base near the Gaza Strip.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Hamas Web site posted an audio message on Monday from an Israeli soldier captured a year ago by militants allied with the Islamic group — the first sign from him since he was seized at an army base near the Gaza Strip.

In the message, posted on a Web site of the Hamas military wing, Cpl. Gilad Shalit said his health is deteriorating and that he needs to go to a hospital. He also said in the brief statement that he is disappointed in the "lack of interest" of the Israeli government in his fate.

The message was released on the anniversary of his June 25, 2006, capture by Hamas-allied militants who tunneled into Israel.

Earlier on Monday, a video recording was released showing kidnapped British journalist Alan Johnston wearing an apparent explosives belt of the type suicide bombers use and warning it will be detonated if an attempt is made to free him by force.

The video, about one minute, 42 seconds long, was posted on a Web site that has been used by militant groups in the past. It opens with the title “Alan’s Appeal” in both English and Arabic and features the logo of the Army of Islam, a shadowy group that has claimed responsibility for snatching Johnston, a British Broadcasting Corp. correspondent.

“Captors tell me that very promising negotiations were ruined when the Hamas movement and the British government decided to press for a military solution to this kidnapping,” Johnston says in the recording, looking nervous and stressed.

“And the situation is now very serious, as you can see.”

Johnston is seen wearing a red sweater with a blue and white checked vest strapped around his body — the apparent bomb belt.

“I have been dressed in what is an explosive belt, which the kidnappers say will be detonated if there is an attempt to storm the area,” he continues. “They say they are ready to turn the hide-out into what they describe as a death zone if there is an attempt to free me by force.”

Johnston was standing and shaking his head as he spoke. Light entered the room from above, and an Arabic translation was provided on the screen. Nobody else appears in the video.

“I do appeal to the Hamas movement and the British government not, not to, resort to the tactics of force in an effort to end this,” he says in a jittery tone.

‘Return to negotiations’
“I’d ask the BBC and anyone in Britain who wishes me well to support me in that appeal,” he says. “It seems the answer is to return to negotiations, which I am told are very close to achieving a deal.”

It was not known when the video was made. Deposed Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas referred to it in a two-hour speech Sunday in Gaza City, but it was not posted to the Web site until early Monday.

Johnston was seized from a Gaza street on March 12. His captors have previously said they want a Palestinian militant jailed in Britain to be released in exchange for Johnston.

The first time Johnston was seen since his abduction was in a video posted on another Web site on June 1. In that tape, the journalist appeared calm and said his captors had treated him well. He also criticized Britain for its role in Israel’s creation and blamed British and American troops for the spiraling violence in Iraq.

Since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip earlier this month, Hamas leaders have been saying that Johnston’s release was imminent. Hamas officials have indicated they know where he is, but have not moved in for fear of harming him.

Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said Saturday that Johnston’s captors were hesitant to release him, fearing retaliation after he is freed. On Sunday, Khaled Abu Hilal, spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Gaza, said that concern for Johnston’s life was complicating efforts to free him.

The Army of Islam is dominated by the Doghmush family, a powerful Gaza clan with its own large militia. Although the group participated in a Hamas-backed operation to kidnap Shalit last year, its relations with the militant Muslim group have since soured.

Johnston had reported from Gaza since 2005 and was the only foreign journalist to remain based there after Palestinian infighting erupted last year. There has been a series of kidnappings of foreign journalists in Gaza in the past two years, but Johnston’s captivity has been the longest.