An Israeli soldier held captive for over three years by Hamas smiled briefly and looked healthy in a two-minute Hamas video handed over to Israel on Friday. Gilad Shalit, abducted in June 2006, was shown holding up a copy of the Arabic-language newspaper "Palestine" dated September 14, in a "proof of life" gesture by Hamas in return for the release of 20 Palestinian women from prison in Israel.
The 23-year-old soldier read out a statement in Hebrew.
In the video, released to broadcasters, he said he was being "treated excellently" by his captors.
"I have been hoping and waiting for a long time for the day I will be released, and hope that the current government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu will not now waste the opportunity to conclude the deal," he said.
The exchange with Hamas, brokered by Germany and Egypt, is seen as a step toward a major Palestinian prisoner release and freedom for Shalit. "Although the path to his release is still long and difficult, the knowledge that he is healthy encourages us all," Netanyahu was quoted as saying by his spokesman Nir Hefetz.
"The prime minister believes the video is important because it confirms Gilad Shalit's condition and places total responsibility for Gilad's well-being on Hamas," Hefetz added, according to Reuters.