Page last updated at 10:28 GMT, Monday, 31 March 2008 11:28 UK

Seized Israeli soldier 'is alive'

An undated photo of Corporal Gilad Shalit
Gilad Shalit said his health was failing in a message sent in June 2007

Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was seized in Israel by Palestinian militants in 2006, is alive, the leader of the radical Hamas group has said.

In an interview with Britain's Sky News TV, Syrian-based Khaled Meshaal also said Cpl Shalit was being well-treated.

Last year, Hamas sent Israel a list of 450 Palestinian prisoners it wanted released in exchange for Cpl Shalit.

Israel replied that many of the inmates had "blood on their hands" and could not be freed.

"Gilad is still alive and we are treating him a in good way while the Israelis treat our prisoners badly and everyone knows that," Mr Meshaal said.

Mr Meshaal was speaking from an undisclosed location in Syria's capital, Damascus. Cpl Shalit, 21, was seized in a cross-border raid in June 2006.

Two other Israeli soldiers died in the attack, which was carried out by militants from Hamas and other Palestinian groups from Gaza.

A similar raid by Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon led to an outbreak of hostilities in July 2006.

Two Israeli soldiers were captured in the raid and three others killed. The fate of those held is still unclear.

In the conflict that followed, more than 1,000 Lebanese, mostly civilians, died, along with 160 Israelis, the majority soldiers.

'Unconditional talks'

Hamas has been in charge of the Gaza Strip since June 2007 when it wrested control from the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas, who is based in the West Bank.

Khaled Meshaal in Damascus, 1 March 2008
Khaled Meshaal said rocket attacks on Israel were a natural reaction
In the same interview, Mr Meshaal offered talks with Mr Abbas.

"We invite Mr Abbas to come for unconditional talks in Gaza," he said. "Talks on how to address the reasons for the split and to return Gaza and the West Bank to unity and solve the security problem."

Mr Abbas' Fatah faction and Hamas agreed in reconciliation talks brokered by Yemen earlier this month to hold further meetings.

Mr Meshaal also urged Israel to agree that civilians should not be part of the current conflict, which has recently seen Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket attacks on Israel by Palestinian militants.

But he added that the rocket attacks were an understandable reaction to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

Israel says it will not talk directly to Hamas because it refuses to acknowledge Israel's right to exist and renounce violence.

Full text: 'Shalit message'
25 Jun 07 |  Middle East
Red Cross builds Shalit pressure
06 Sep 07 |  Middle East
Israel army holds Shalit suspect
13 Jul 07 |  Middle East

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