25 June 2010
On Friday, the fourth anniversary of the capture of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, 23, by Hamas-linked militants in a cross-border raid was marked in Israel and around the world. Shalit is still held in captivity in the Gaza Strip, and so far, all efforts to secure his release through an exchange of prisoners have failed. Thousands of yellow balloons were to be released across Israel for the anniversary, a candle-lighting ceremony was held in Tel Aviv, and a major newspaper distributed yellow ribbons to its readers.
On Sunday, Gilad Shalit’s family is to be accompanied by thousands of supporters on a march from their home town in northern Israel to Prime Minister Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem. Organizers of the march say they would remain camped there until they see their son again. Their campaign has widespread support among Israel's public and in the country's media.
On 25 June 2006, Palestinian fighters penetrated into an Israeli military camp through a tunnel they had dug. They killed two IDF soldiers, wounded another four and kidnapped the 19-year-old Shalit. He has since had no contact with his family or the International Committee of the Red Cross.
"Hamas authorities are violating the laws of war by refusing to allow Shalit to correspond with his family," the New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch said, adding that the young soldier's prolonged detention "may amount to torture." The group added in its statement: "Regardless of Hamas’ grievances against Israel, there are no grounds to cut Shalit off completely from his family.”
In New York, hundreds of people set sail on Thursday in what they dubbed the ‘True Freedom Flotilla’ (picture). Ten boats sailed past the Statue of Liberty, around Manhattan, and past the United Nations, waving signs calling to free Gilad Shalit. The event was organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Among those in attendance were Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev and Michael Faulkner of the New Horizon Church, a Christian leader who has long been vocal in his support for Israel. “The real siege in Gaza is against Gilad Shalit,” said the organizers.
In the Italian capital Rome, where the City Council held a solidarity rally for his son, Gilad Shalit's father Noam (picture, on the right) met with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, who told him that the condition of Gilad's captivity breached all international rules and showed the terrorist nature of Hamas. Frattini stressed: "EU countries cannot consider [Hamas] as a political interlocutor." Noam Shalit said the EU should apply the same pressure on Hamas than it had applied on Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza.
Meanwhile, Rome's City Council made Gilad Shalit an honorary citizen of the Eternal City.
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