News / Middle East

Israel Seeks Freedom for Soldier Held in Gaza Since 2006

An Israeli soldier and a woman walk past a protest tent calling for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, near the Prime Minister's residence, in Jerusalem, June 24, 2011.
An Israeli soldier and a woman walk past a protest tent calling for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit, near the Prime Minister's residence, in Jerusalem, June 24, 2011.

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Robert Berger

Israelis are calling for the release of one of their soldiers held captive in Gaza for the past five years.  The soldier's freedom has become an urgent public cause in the Jewish state.

Israelis are rallying around the country to mark the fifth anniversary of the capture of soldier Gilad Shalit.  He was kidnapped by Palestinian gunmen in a cross-border raid in 2006, and has been held by the Islamic militant group Hamas in Gaza ever since.

Many Israelis visited the Shalit family at their protest tent outside the prime minister's office in Jerusalem.

Noam Shalit, the captured soldier's father, says the family has wide support from the public, but the Israeli government has not done enough to free his son.

Israel has offered to release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit's freedom.  But a deal has been elusive, because Israel refuses to release top militants responsible for some of the deadliest suicide bombings.

Hamas says the ball is in Israel's court. In a video posted on its web site, Hamas showed an image of the captive soldier - alive, but in chains.  The narrator said Shalit will not be released until all the demands of Hamas are met and Palestinian prisoners go free.

It is a divisive issue among Israelis.  While Israel has carried out lopsided prisoner swaps in the past, critics say that policy has led to more terrorism and cost many Israeli lives.  Others say it is part of the national ethos to bring captive soldiers home at any price.

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