Thursday, April 02, 2009

Hopes rise for release of captive Israeli soldier


There appears to be increased optimism that captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit may soon be released from his nearly 3 year captivity by Hamas militants in Gaza. Schalit, whose army armor corps unit was attacked on June 25, 2006 while on patrol alongside Israel's Kerem Shalom border area; was taken back to Gaza by his captors following the ambush on his armored personnel carrier in which two Israeli soldiers were killed and three were wounded. Since then, no actual photographs or video films have been shown to indicate his condition, and only three letters have been given to his parents, Noam and Aviva, to confirm that the young soldier is alive.

Since his capture, intense local and international efforts have been made to secure his release from a captivity that is now in its 961st day. Until now, the release of the young soldier, who has been promoted to Staff Sergeant, has been delayed numerous times by unacceptable demands made by Hamas which has included releasing more than 1,000 Palestinians including several who have been found responsible for involvement in a number of deadly terror attacks against Israeli civilians.

A number of countries have tried to intervene on Schalit's behalf, including European ones like Germany and France. Due to his holding French nationality, Schalit was recently named an Honorary Citizen of Paris. Even the Catholic Church has tried to gain his release, through its representatives in Gaza; but until now, these efforts have been to no avail. Gilad's parents have been involved in a number of international rallies to gain more attention to the plight of their son; and recently, Aviva Schalit was featured on a weekend news magazine for the Israeli Channel 2 TVnetwork.

Following the 22 day Operation Cast Lead military actions between Israel and Hamas, diplomatic efforts have been stepped up on Schalit's behalf, and several meetings have been held in Cairo to work out a deal to gain his release. The Hamas organization, whose infrastructure was severely damaged during the war, which also left more than 1.300 Palestinians dead, appear to want to enter into a long period of quiet with Israel in order for them to rebuild installations damaged or destroyed. Schalit himself was reported by his captors to have been injured by explosions during the action.

Schalit's release is now a top priority for the Israeli government and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other government officials are demanding that Schalit be released before Israel agrees to enter into a serious truce with Hamas and other Islamic terror organizations in Gaza. For their part, the Hamas leadership seems to be more in favor of the young soldier's release, providing certain "conditions" be met, including opening of border crossings to allow sufficient aid and supplies to enter the place that many people refer to as an "open air prison". There is also the matter of exchanging hundreds of Palestinian militants for a young man who never harmed anyone and only joined the army unit he was stationed in because he considered it his duty, since his elder brother Yoel had also served in this unit.

All everyone can hope for now is that Gilad is alive and in some measure of good health, despite the suffering that both he and his family have endured during this long period.

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