Page last updated at 06:50 GMT, Tuesday, 10 June 2008 07:50 UK

Shalit family 'receives letter'

Gilad Shalit
Gilad Shalit was captured by Palestinian militants in June 2006

The family of the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, has received a letter from him, two years after he was seized by Palestinian militants.

The letter was in Cpl Shalit's handwriting and was recent, his father Noam Shalit told an Israeli newspaper.

In it, his son begged for his life and requested efforts be made to secure his release as soon as possible, he added.

Cpl Shalit was seized by militants from Gaza in a cross-border raid on 25 June 2006. Two other soldiers were killed.

The subsequent bombardment and invasion of the coastal territory by Israeli troops failed to secure his release.

'Doesn't relax us'

In March, the Damascus-based political leader of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, said the 21-year-old soldier was still alive and being treated "in a good way".

The letter was sent in a goodwill gesture to former President Jimmy Carter and to indicate Hamas's seriousness in its desire to reach a prisoner swap deal that will close the Shalit file
Osama al-Muzaini
Senior Hamas official

Shortly afterwards, Mr Meshaal told former US President Jimmy Carter that he would be allowed to write to his family as a humanitarian gesture.

Monday's hand-written letter was reportedly passed onto the Shalit family by the Carter Center, after it was given to its office in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The Center said Mr Carter would attempt to arrange for a return letter to be sent from Cpl Shalit's parents to their son and continue to push for his release.

Although he would not divulge the full contents of the letter, Noam Shalit said the letter offered only partial relief.

"This is better than nothing, but it doesn't relax us, and it doesn't change the fact that Gilad has been in captivity for almost two years and it doesn't look like there is any progress in the contacts for Gilad's release," he told the Haaretz newspaper.

Jimmy Carter and Noam Shalit (13 April 2008)
Jimmy Carter has been in close contact with both the Shalits and Hamas

A senior Hamas official confirmed it had sanctioned the release of the letter.

"The letter was sent in a goodwill gesture to former President Jimmy Carter and to indicate Hamas's seriousness in its desire to reach a prisoner swap deal that will close the Shalit file and fulfil the demands of the Palestinian groups who abducted Shalit," Osama al-Muzaini told the Reuters news agency.

Hamas, which seized control of Gaza last year, has demanded the release of 450 Palestinian prisoners in return for Cpl Shalit.

Ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hamas are currently being mediated by Egypt, but Israel has said any deal must include the release of the soldier.

Now with seeming evidence to support this, there are hopes progress can be made towards halting Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel and Israeli military operations in Gaza, says the BBC's Wyre Davies in Jerusalem.

The Shalits had previously received two letters and a taped message from their son.

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