An Israeli soldier held captive for more than three years by Hamas militants says in a video released Friday that he misses his family and is being treated well by his captors.
In exchange for the video, the first visual proof that Sgt. Gilad Schalit is alive, Israel freed 19 Palestinian female prisoners earlier in the day. The women were released into the West Bank and Gaza on Friday after an Israeli negotiator verified the videotape's authenticity.
In the video, Schalit appears thin and pale. He is seated before a bare wall and holds up a newspaper dated Sept. 14 to show when the footage was taped. Schalit urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bring him home.
His captivity has been a major sticking point in lifting a bruising Israeli blockade of Gaza. The exchange is the first tangible step toward defusing Israeli-Palestinian hostilities.
Israel has detained dozens of Hamas politicians in the West Bank on various occasions following the capture of Schalit, 22, in a cross-border raid in June 2006.
Moreover, Israel is holding an estimated 8,000 Palestinian prisoners in its jails, and Hamas wants some 1,200 freed, including 450 who masterminded or were otherwise involved in suicide bombings and other deadly assaults, in exchange for Schalit.