Captive’s dad: Son begs for life in letter home

In this April 13, 2008 file photo, former President Carter speaks with Noam Schalit, the father of captured Israeli soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit, during their meeting in Jerusalem. The parents of the abducted Israeli soldier received a letter from him on Monday. Schalit was captured by Hamas-allied militants near the Gaza border nearly two years ago. Sebastian Scheiner / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

An Israeli soldier held by Palestinian militants for almost two years pleaded for his life in his latest letter home and begged his government to intensify efforts to win his release, his father told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Noam Schalit, father of 21-year-old Cpl. Gilad Schalit, would not quote directly from the letter, passed to him Monday through emissaries for former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. But he said his son wrote of poor health and dreams of home.

The young tank crewman has not been seen since he was seized by militants linked to the radical Islamic Hamas group in a cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip into Israel in June 2006, although a recording of his voice and two other letters have been sent to his family.

Hamas, which rules Gaza, handed over the latest note as part of a promise it gave Carter during a meeting in Syria in April. Carter's talks with Hamas were criticized as misguided by the Bush administration and by Israel, which both shun Hamas as a terrorist group.

Delivery of the letter, through Carter Center offices in the West Bank, came just ahead of discussion by Israel's leaders Tuesday on whether to pursue an Egyptian-mediated truce with Hamas or launch a major military push into the coastal strip. Palestinians regularly pound southern Israel with rocket and mortar barrages from the area.

Defense Ministry policy director Amos Gilad, however, told Israel's Army Radio on Tuesday that he saw no connection between the release of the letter and the closed-door debate on Gaza.

Israel has linked a truce to the cessation of arms smuggling from Egypt into Gaza and Schalit's release.

Noam Schalit met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last week to get an update on talks to free his son. He has been increasingly critical of the pace of Israeli government efforts to gain his son's release.

He is to speak at a public rally marking two years of Gilad's captivity on June 25.

Israel has reportedly agreed in principle to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Schalit, but after back-and-forth talks through Egyptian intermediaries, has balked at many of the names sought by Hamas.

Israel also rejects Hamas' demand that cease-fire be accompanied by an end to Israel's yearlong economic blockade of Gaza, imposed after Hamas seized control of the area in June 2007.