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CAPTIVE ISRAELI SOLDIER WROTE OF 'NIGHTMARE'

JERUSALEM - An Israeli soldier seized by Palestinian militants more than three years ago described his captivity as an "intolerable and inhumane nightmare" in a handwritten 2006 letter to his parents made public Wednesday.

In carefully printed script, Sgt. Gilad Schalit reported deteriorating health and deep depression and made an anguished appeal to the Israeli government to release him from his "closed and solitary prison."

Schalit, now 23, wrote the 14-line letter three months after gunmen affiliated with the Gaza Strip's Islamic Hamas rulers captured him in a cross-border raid.

The existence of the letter had been known, but his parents had not published its contents.

It was leaked to the Israeli media before the publication of a new book that purports through militant sources to chronicle his captivity and Israel's unsuccessful efforts to trade him for Palestinian prisoners it holds.

Schalit's captors have not allowed anyone to see him. Three letters and an audiotape have been relayed to his parents since he was seized. The most recent was a letter that former President Jimmy Carter passed to his parents in October 2008.

"My health is deteriorating from day to day, particularly my mental health, and this causes me much depression," Schalit wrote in the newly revealed 2006 letter, which was carried by Israeli media outlets. "I am waiting for this intolerable and inhumane nightmare of mine to end, to be released from this lonely and closed prison."

Some of the letter's contents may have been dictated by the militants holding him. Schalit refers to his captors as "mujahedeen," writing the Arabic word for "holy warriors" in Hebrew. He also uses the Arabic name for the border crossing where he was captured.

In exchange for Schalit, Hamas officials have demanded that Israel release hundreds of long-serving Palestinian prisoners, including masterminds of attacks that killed Israeli citizens. Israel has so far balked, and three years of negotiations through Egyptian, and more recently German, mediators have failed to wrest a compromise.

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