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Captured Israeli Soldier Writes Home

Israel has received the first signs of life from a soldier kidnapped by Hamas gunmen in the Gaza Strip three months ago.

After conducting lab tests, Israeli officials say a letter written by kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Shalit to his father is authentic, reports . The letter was given to his father last week, but its contents were not released.

Officials also confirm that Egypt is mediating a major prisoner swap. Media reports say Israel will release at least 800 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the captive soldier.

There was no confirmation from the Israeli Prime Minister's Office on Wednesday, but officials close to the talks confirmed the details. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

In other developments:

  • Israeli troops raided the homes and offices of 14 money changers in the West Bank early Wednesday, confiscating nearly $1.5 million the army said came mostly from Iran and was earmarked for terrorism, reports .
  • While Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was planning to tell President Bush and other world leaders at the United Nations that the new unity government would move the peace process forward, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said his government would not recognize Israel.
  • Israel will not be able to fully withdraw from Lebanon by the start of Rosh Hashanah, the new year holiday that begins Friday at sundown. Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz on Wednesday contradicted a statement he had made Tuesday. Israeli forces have been gradually pulling out from territory captured during the 34-day war that ended five weeks ago.
  • Israel's ambassador to the United Nations criticized the U.S. administration on Monday for granting an entrance visa to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and allowing him to address the U.N. General Assembly. The Israeli delegation boycotted the speech by Ahmadinejad, who has said he wants to wipe Israel off the map and dismissed the Holocaust as a myth.
  • Israel on Wednesday buried the remains of
    (AP Photo/Gali Tibbon)
    two children of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, fulfilling a wish their father made more than a century ago. All three of Herzl's children died tragically. Pauline suffered from mental illness and died in 1930, apparently of a drug overdose. Hans, who converted to Christianity, committed suicide when he learned of her death. Herzl's youngest daughter, Trude, died in a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust, and her body has never been found.

  • Shalit was captured by Gaza militants who carried out a cross-border raid on June 25. The militants attacked a military post in Israel, killing two soldiers and seizing Shalit. That led to an Israeli incursion into the Palestinian territories, which was followed by Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers — whose fate is still unknown — and war with the militant group in Lebanon.

    Meanwhile, Haniyeh was throwing cold water on Abbas' plans to embrace the Mideast "road map" peace plan and recognize Israel.

    "We do not accept the Quartet's conditions, but we also do not accept that the present situation continues," the Palestinian prime minister told demonstrators back home demanding months of unpaid wages.

    A Palestinian official earlier this week said Abbas had assured Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that the new unity government would recognize Israeli's right to exist.

    The Israeli Army said that at least eight currency exchange offices and a small bank were destroyed in the raids in Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarem and Ramallah. Troops arrested two men who had pistols and hunting rifles in their homes, the army said.

    The money changers, the army said, were involved in transferring cash, most of it Iranian, to extremist groups in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, who used it to finance the production of rockets, explosive belts and booby-trapped cars, and other militant activities. The money traveled through Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah commands in Lebanon and Syria, it said.

    All told, 5 million shekels ($1.2 million) and 170,000 Jordanian dinars ($240,000) were seized, the army said.

    Samir Abu Eisheh, the acting Palestinian finance minister, said that Israel was trying through the raid to restrict Palestinian economic activity.

    The Israeli operation "is a continuation of the measures by the Israeli government to trap the Palestinian people economically," Abu Eisheh said. "Israel wants to continue its pressures on all sectors of the Palestinian people."

    Under international sanctions, the Hamas-led Palestinian government has been unable to pay salaries to its tens of thousands of government workers since taking office in March. As a result, many Palestinian families rely on bank loans and money transfers from relatives living abroad.

    Mohammed Assar, a money changer in the West Bank town of Jenin, said troops took $250,000, and destroyed his business.

    "They took me from my house and forced me to open the door and took everything I have: money, checks, dollars, shekels," Assar said. "They didn't leave me anything except for the rubble."

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