Father: Israeli soldier treated harshly by Hamas

AP News
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Posted: Oct 20, 2011 6:37 PM
Father: Israeli soldier treated harshly by Hamas

The father of the Israeli soldier freed this week in a swap with the Islamic militant group Hamas said Thursday that his son "endured harsh things" while held in Gaza.

Noam Schalit made the remarks Thursday evening after spending the Jewish holiday of Simhat Torah reunited with his son, Sgt. Gilad Schalit. The comments provided the first details of how the soldier was treated during his 5 1/2 years of captivity in Gaza.

Schalit was freed Tuesday in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. Many of the hundreds of prisoners released in the first part of the two stage swap called for more violence and abductions after they returned to Gaza and the West Bank.

"Relative to the nightmare he endured, he is in good shape," Noam Schalit said. "He has to readjust after almost 2,000 days of isolation without sunlight."

Gilad Schalit was notably gaunt, pale and exhausted when he was freed. Noam Schalit said his son was suffering from malnutrition and shrapnel wounds, apparently sustained during his capture, that had not been treated properly.

Zuhair Al-Qaisi, from a Palestinian militant group that captured the soldier in 2006, told the Al-Hayat newspaper that the soldier was treated well. "He was not given over to any emotional or physical torture," Al-Qaisi told the paper.

Noam Schalit dismissed the report. "He endured harsh things, especially at the beginning of his captivity," Schalit said, refusing to elaborate.

"I hope he will return to a normal life soon," he said.

Since his return Gilad Schalit has been meeting family, friends and taking walks and bicycle rides around his home in Mitzpe Hila, a small village in northern Israel.

Well-wishers from across the country have flocked to the tiny community to catch a glimpse of the soldier who became a national figure while in captivity.

Freed Palestinian prisoners were treated as heroes on Thursday as they tried to settle back into daily life.

One of the most prominent Palestinian among those released, Yehiyeh Sinwar, called on militants to capture more Israeli soldiers to help free thousands of other Palestinians still in Israeli jails.

"We have no other choice. Either we die in prison, or we are released this way," Sinwar told The Associated Press. "The only way to release prisoners is to kidnap more soldiers."

Hundreds flocked to Sinwar's home in the crowded Gaza city of Khan Younis, many kissing his forehead and his hands in a show of respect.

Until his release, Sinwar, a founder of Hamas' military wing, served almost 25 years of four life sentences he was given for his role in the abduction and killing of two Israeli soldiers in the 1980s.

Another freed prisoner, Wafa al-Biss, a 26-year-old woman, was arrested in 2005 and sentenced to 12 years for trying to detonate explosives hidden in her underwear as she approached Gaza's Erez crossing into Israel.

She had been given a permit by Israel to leave Gaza for treatment at an Israeli hospital for burns she sustained in an accident in her home in Gaza.

She told well-wishers, including children from the neighborhood, that Palestinians should follow in her footsteps.

"I was about to push the button to become a martyr," al-Biss said in a telephone interview, recalling the day of her failed attack. "An error prevented me from doing so."

"We shall continue on this path of struggle and resistance and martyrdom, and this is what I told my comrades in the cell and this is what I told the children and this is what I am going to keep telling anyone who will ask me about my feelings," she said.

Hamas officials said they would give prisoners a $2,000 gift each and that they would receive government salaries.

Israel's agreement to release of 1,027 Palestinians for Schalit was the most lopsided swap in the country's history.

Israel on Tuesday released 477 Palestinian prisoners, many of them convicted of masterminding deadly attacks, in exchange for Schalit. In the second phase of the deal mediated by Egypt, Israel is to release another 550 prisoners in two months.

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Associated Press Writers Diaa Hadid in Jerusalem and Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza contributed to this report.