Hamas chief says captured Israeli soldier is alive

r2.jpgLONDON (Reuters) – The exiled leader of the Islamist Palestinian Hamas group, Khaled Meshaal, said on Monday that an Israeli soldier captured in 2006 and held in Gaza is alive and being well treated.

In an interview with Britain’s Sky News television, Meshaal, who lives in Syria, also said Hamas was ready to stop attacking Israeli civilians if the Jewish state agreed to do the same.

“Gilad (Shalit) is alive and we are treating him well but Israel is treating the Palestinian prisoners they hold very badly,” Meshaal told Sky News.

Shalit was captured by Palestinian gunmen in a cross-border raid into an Israeli army base in June 2006. He was 19 when he was seized.

Hamas has said it will not release Shalit unless Israel frees nearly 1,400 Palestinian prisoners, including 350 with life sentences, but Israel has rejected these terms.

The leader of the group, whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel, also renewed an offer first made to Israel 10 years ago to limit attack to military targets.

“We renew our offer to Israel to let the civilians on both sides not be a part of this conflict,” he said. “We renew this offer today.”

Hamas has said any ceasefire would depend on an end to Israeli acts of “aggression” in Gaza and the occupied West Bank and the reopening of Gaza border crossings.

The group seized control of Gaza last June after routing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah forces. Abbas then sacked a Hamas-led unity government and pursued U.S.-backed peace talks with Israel.

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