Hamas officials on Sunday expressed hope that an animated film about kidnapped IDF soldier St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit would put pressure on the Israeli government to reach a prisoner exchange agreement with the Islamist movement without delay.

They also warned that failure to comply with the captors’ demands would mean that Schalit would meet the same fate as IAF navigator Ron Arad, who has been missing since his plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986.

The three-minute cartoon, published by Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam, shows the soldier’s father, Noam Schalit, wandering the streets with a photo of his son in his hand.

The soldier’s voice, as heard in two previous tapes, can be heard in the background. As the father is walking, he passes posters of former prime minister Ehud Olmert and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who had promised to bring back his son.

The cartoon shows Noam Schalit eventually receiving his son in a flag-draped coffin. But then the father wakes up from his dream and realizes that it’s still not too late to bring back his son home alive.

In the cartoon, Izzadin Kassam warns that its men would kidnap more IDF soldiers in the future, forcing the Israeli government to one day establish a “ministry for missing soldiers.”

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that the cartoon was aimed at sending a message to Israeli society that their governments were “deceiving” them.

“Hamas wants to show the Israeli people that their successive governments are not serious about returning the soldier,” he said. “These governments have repeatedly broken their promises to the Israeli people and to Schalit’s family.”

Barhoum called on Israelis to exert pressure on Netanyahu’s “racist and extremist” government to force it to strike a deal that would see the release of Schalit in return for Palestinians held in Israel.

Gilad has been held in Gaza since he was kidnapped in June 2006 as he patrolled Israel’s southern border. In early winter, a flurry of indirect negotiations failed to produce a deal.

The Hamas spokesman added that his movement’s conditions for releasing Schalit remained unchanged.

“If they really want to have the soldier back, they must exploit the opportunity now,” he said, referring to the Netanyahu government.

Another Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, said that Schalit would not see the light of day until Israel accepts the conditions of the captors.

He also criticized human rights organizations, especially the International Committee of the Red Cross, for calling for Schalit’s release.

Abu Zuhri accused the organizations of being “biased” in favor of “Israeli occupation.”

In response to the video, Noam Schalit said, “It’s regrettable that the leaders of Hamas time and again choose to employ psychological warfare – for the umpteenth time – against the Schalit family and the State of Israel.”

Schalit blamed Hamas for the stalled talks. Hamas, he went on, would have done better to respond to Israel’s latest offer for a prisoner exchange, which had “lain on their table for four months unanswered.”

As he stated in his letter to the Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, Schalit said that Hamas prefers to act out of its own political self-interest rather than out of concern for its people.

In so doing they have prevented the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, said Schalit.

Hamas would do better to concern itself with the true interests of the Palestinian prisoners and the citizens of Gaza, who have become hostages of their leaders, instead of putting on films and displays, he added.

Netanyahu’s spokesman, Nir Hefetz also responded to the video.

“The cynical manipulation of the Schalit family’s feelings by Hamas leadership just two days after Israel allowed a girl to be flown out of Gaza for a life-saving operation, reflects more than anything upon the organization’s character.”

The “base action” by Hamas was the organization’s tactic to avoid making a decision on “the offer of a humanitarian deal worked out with both sides that the German mediator placed before them under Egyptian auspices two months back,” Hefetz said.  

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