By Robert Berger, www1.VOAnews.com
On June 25, Israel marked the 4th anniversary of the capture of soldier Gilad Shalit, held by the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Shalit was kidnapped by Palestinian gunmen in a cross-border raid in 2006 and has not been seen publicly since. Hamas released a video of the soldier last year and he appeared to be in good health.
Shalit’s family is marking the anniversary with a new campaign to rally public support for his release. A 12-day march begins on Sunday, June 27 from the Shalit home in northern Israel to the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem.
“We are going to demand from the Israeli government to free Gilad after four years, and we won’t wait for the fifth year and the sixth year and so on,” said Noam Shalit, the captive soldier’s father.
So far, Israel has refused to pay the price demanded by Hamas — 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the soldier. Though Israel has carried out lopsided prisoner swaps in the past, the current government is reluctant to release top militants involved in deadly attacks.
Many Israelis say it is part of the national ethos to bring captive soldiers home at any price. But others, like parliamentarian Danny Denon of the ruling Likud party, say that would lead to a new wave of Palestinian terror.
“We know that if we will release some of the terrorists that [are] today in prison, it’s a matter of weeks until they will start to implement their expertise, which is causing terrorism in Israel,” said Denon.
Hamas says it is prepared to hold Gilad Shalit in captivity for many more years, until Israel meets its demands for a prisoner exchange.
But four years on, the group’s treatment of the captive soldier is coming under international scrutiny. The New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a statement accusing Hamas of violating the rules of war by prohibiting Shalit from having contacts with his family and the Red Cross.