ROME – An Israeli soldier seized by Palestinian militants in 2006 is alive and well, the exiled leader of the militant group Hamas said in an interview published Friday by an Italian magazine.
Khaled Mashaal, the Syria-based leader of the Palestinian group, told Panorama weekly that Cpl. Gilad Schalit was being treated well, and reiterated claims that Israel's recent military operations in the Gaza Strip were hurting chances of a prisoner swap.
"Gilad Schalit is alive. He is well and he is also being treated with kid gloves," Mashaal was quoted as saying by the magazine.
Schalit, 21, was seized in June 2006 by Hamas militants from the Gaza Strip in a cross-border raid into Israel. Two of his comrades were killed in the attack.
While Hamas officials have periodically stated that Schalit is well, his captors have not allowed Red Cross representatives to see him, and his condition is unclear. The only known sign of life from the soldier has been an audio recording released in June 2007, in which he said his health was deteriorating.
Hamas wants Israel to free hundreds of Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis, which Israel has refused to do. Secret negotiations on a prisoner swap deal have stalled, and Schalit remains a captive in Gaza.
Speaking in Damascus, where he lives, Mashaal blamed the stall on Israeli raids coming in response to rockets fired from the coastal strip, which has been under Hamas' control since the group's forces ousted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement in June.
"Thanks to Egypt's mediation we had already decided the number of prisoners and the place of the exchange. We were missing the names," Panorama quoted him as saying. "But we will never do exchanges with those whose hands are stained with our blood."