Hamas releases video of captured Israeli soldier

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MARCO WERMAN: Israelis got a glimpse of Gilad Shalit today. He's the Israeli soldier who was captured near the Gaza border in 2006. Today, Hamas delivered a video of Shalit in exchange for the release of 19 Palestinian prisoners -- all women. Hamas called the exchange a "victory for the resistance." In the video, Shalit urges Israel to make a deal for his release. Linda Gradstein has more from Jerusalem.

LINDA GRADSTEIN: In the more than three years since Palestinian militants captured him in a cross-border raid, Gilad Shalit has become a household name in Israel. Cars sport blue and white bumper stickers saying "Gilad is still alive" and all schools have devoted lessons to learning about the captured solider. A children's book he wrote and illustrated when he was 11 has become a best seller. Shalit's family has set up a protest tent next to the prime minister's home. Stuart Shoffman is a senior fellow at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem.

STUART SHOFFMAN: Gilad Shalit has come to symbolize every Israeli parent's nightmare. You send your kid to the army, and you expect the state to take care of him and to do their utmost to make sure that harm does not come to him, even as you know that going to the army is not like going to summer camp.

GRADSTEIN: Shalit was 19 when he was captured. Israeli officials say they believe he was slightly wounded at the time. He's now 23. The video, which is about two minutes and 40 seconds long, shows Shalit, speaking to the camera and holding up a copy of a Gaza newspaper dated September 14th. In the video, Shalit, wearing dark green combat fatigues, looked thin but seemed relaxed. He seemed to smile ironically as he said his captors were treating him, quote, "excellently." He also said he dreamed of the day when he will be able to come home. Shalit's cousin, Jonathan Shalit, said the family was thrilled to get the video.

JONATHAN SHALIT: Clearly everyone's delighted. And the real hope now is to have him released because there is no reason to keep him kidnapped -- he's important enough to change the destination of the conflict in the Middle East, he's a young innocent soldier doing his job. So, we're delighted he's alive and I'm hoping he'll be released sooner rather than later.

GRADSTEIN: Menachem Fisch, a professor of history at Tel Aviv University, says Shalit has come to symbolize the value Israel places on every soldier.

MENACHEM FISCH: Solidarity, not leaving your wounded men on the field. "Pidyon Shvuyim" - the principle of redeeming one's own captives, and so on.

GRADSTEIN: In exchange for the video, Israel released 19 Palestinian female prisoners. Most of them were convicted of attempted attacks on Israelis, and all were due to be released within the next two years. Another 50 Palestinian women, along with some 7,000 men, remain in Israeli jails. Still, Hamas characterized today's deal as a victory. Hamas is demanding the release of some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit's freedom. Israeli President Shimon Peres cautioned that while today's video-prisoner exchange is a good sign, Shalit's freedom is not imminent.

PRESIDENT SHIMON PERES: It is an important step, but only a single step. The road for his liberation is still a long one, and a complicated one.

GRADSTEIN: Hamas is insisting on the release of dozens of prisoners who were convicted of attacks. The negotiations have sparked a debate within Israel over whether the price is too high. Stuart Shoffman says that most Israelis believe the trade is worth it.

SHOFFMAN: The assumption that a soldier makes that all measures will be taken if he is taken prisoner. That assumption is critical, because without it, the soldier will be unwilling to take risks, unwilling to volunteer, so it's terribly, terribly complicated.

GRADSTEIN: Egyptian and German mediators say they will meet soon with representatives of both Israel and Hamas to continue the negotiations. For the World, I'm Linda Gradstein in Jerusalem