Israelis Mark 5th Year of Soldier’s Capture

Posted June 25th, 2011 at 12:55 pm (UTC-5)
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Hundreds of supporters of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit have gathered in Jerusalem and at the site near the Gaza border where Palestinian militants seized him in a deadly raid five years ago.

At least 400 people massed Saturday at the Kerem Shalom crossing, close to the spot where Shalit was abducted on June 25, 2006, by militants who tunneled under the border, killed two soldiers and dragged him into Gaza.

The protesters waved flags and demanded the Israeli government do more to secure Shalit's release from Islamist Hamas militants. Organizers read out a letter from Shalit's grandfather, Zvi Shalit, criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not accepting a prisoner swap deal proposed by Hamas to secure the soldier's freedom.

In his letter, Zvi Shalit wrote that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told him he supports the prisoner exchange, but that Mr. Netanyahu “is opposed and cannot be persuaded otherwise.”

Hundreds more supporters visited a protest tent set up by the Shalit family outside Mr. Netanyahu's Jerusalem residence. The Jerusalem Post reported that a rally outside the residence is planned for Saturday evening, and more activities are scheduled on Sunday.

Hamas' military wing issued a statement on its web site Saturday saying Shalit would not “see the light of day” until hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel are released.

The soldier, now 24 years old, was last seen clearly in a videotape Hamas released in 2009. A recent video on a Hamas web site shows an image of a man in chains, identifying him as Shalit.

Earlier this week, the Islamist group rejected an appeal from the International Committee of the Red Cross to prove the kidnapped Israeli soldier is alive.

Mr. Netanyahu retaliated by saying Palestinian prisoners would be stripped of access to higher education and other unspecified privileges.

Years of talks on a prisoner exchange, mediated by Egypt and Germany, have proven unsuccessful.

The United States Friday joined France and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in calling for Shalit's immediate release. Shalit holds dual French and Israeli citizenship.