Last updated: 4 December, 2011

Israeli soldier’s hunger strike sped up release

Palestinian Islamist group Hamas was forced to speed up the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit after he went on hunger strike, Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported on Sunday.

Citing unnamed Israeli security sources, the top-selling daily said Shalit, who was held in Gaza for more than five years, suffered significant weight loss after he began to refuse most food during the final part of his captivity.

His dramatic weight loss and the isolation in which he was held raised fears among his captors that he might die before they could agree a deal to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for freeing Shalit.

“It was one of the things that pushed Hamas to finalise an agreement,” the newspaper said.

Shalit, captured during a cross-border raid by several Palestinian militant groups on June 25, 2006, was freed on October 18 in exchange for the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in two phases.

Israel entered negotiations with Hamas, mediated by Egypt and Germany, for Shalit’s release only after attempts to free him failed.

Yediot reported that one early attempt to secure Shalit’s release involved information that he was being held in a northern Gaza house.

But the information was being “fed” to Israeli intelligence, and the house was in fact empty and booby-trapped, the newspaper said. Israeli officials rumbled the ruse before they decided to launch a rescue mission.

The newspaper said Hamas had gone to great lengths to keep Shalit’s whereabouts secret, even bringing in four Hamas members from abroad, with no family in Gaza, to guard him during his more than five-year detention.

In a bid to keep Shalit’s location secret, the same guards were used for the duration of his captivity, Israeli officials told the newspaper.

Shalit was both pale and emaciated upon his release, but has since gained weight and is “returning to normal,” according to his family.