Thousands march on Jerusalem for Shalit

15Jan

The parents of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit have set up camp outside the residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, vowing to stay there until their abducted son is freed.

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They reached the site after a massive rally capped a 12-day march to Jerusalem aimed to pressure the government into doing more to secure their son’s release.

“It’s time to say enough is enough. Four years of hell — that’s too much,” the soldier’s mother Aviva Shalit told an estimated 25,000 people at Jerusalem’s Independence Park.

A former head of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence service told the crowd: “Gilad in prison: it’s inhuman, it’s immoral, it’s illogical.”

The droning of vuvuzelas mingled with Israeli pop music blaring from car-mounted loudspeakers as the marchers made their way into central Jerusalem earlier in the day.

Many sported T-shirts bearing an image of the 23-year-old soldier and the words “Gilad is alive.”

A banner proclaimed “The people have decided: Free Shalit.”

“We are here to give power to the family of Gilad,” said Sagai Seleb, an 18-year-old Israeli of Ethiopian descent.

Shalit was captured just over four years ago in a cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip that involved Hamas and other fighters.

His parents led the march from their home in northern Israel in a bid to ramp up pressure on Netanyahu’s government to reach a prisoner swap deal with Hamas.

The Islamist movement, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, wants hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit, including scores of top militants responsible for deadly attacks.

“He is a part of our our family. He could be my brother,” said Oren Gilad, a 37-year-old reserve soldier who took part in the march.

Palestinian prisoners, he said “should get the same conditions as Gilad.”

Since his capture, Shalit has had no contact with his family or the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In a report marking four years since Shalit’s capture on June 25, New York-based Human Rights Watch said his prolonged incommunicado detention “may amount to torture.”

The Islamist movement has said that allowing outside access to Shalit could reveal his location to Israel.

Talks with Shalit’s Hamas captors collapsed late last year when Israel offered via a German mediator to release about 1,000 prisoners.

Hamas never formally responded, and both sides have since blamed each other for the stalled talks.

There also has been sharp disagreement inside Netanyahu’s inner circle over the conditions of the swap which would have seen those convicted of deadly attacks released to their homes in the West Bank.

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