OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israelis protested Sunday near Israel’s southern border with Gaza to mark the 25th birthday of soldier Gilad Shalit, who was snatched by Palestinian militants in June 2006, an organizer said.
Around 100 supporters gathered at the Kerem Shalom border crossing, close to where Shalit was captured in a cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip which left two other soldiers dead and three wounded.
“We came because we must put an end to the situation where the Gaza Strip is open to [the import of] goods, but Gilad Shalit for all these years remains a prisoner of Hamas,” organizer Tzahi Leon told AFP by phone.
Demonstrators waving signs called on lorry drivers heading for the strip to turn back but did not resist police orders to clear the road to the border, a police spokeswoman said.
Earlier, Shalit’s parents and their supporters had rallied outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Jerusalem office where ministers were holding their weekly cabinet meeting, local media reported.
Father Noam Shalit held up a sign reading, “Netanyahu: You have no mandate to kill Gilad,” while his wife Aviva carried a sign asking the prime minister for “A birthday present for Gilad – his life back.”
To mark the birthday of the soldier, who holds French as well as Israeli citizenship, French President Nicolas Sarkozy sent a letter which was delivered to his parents Sunday, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.
“Dear Gilad, France will not forget you,” it read.
Noam Shalit was guest of honor at a Tel Aviv social justice rally Saturday night demanding affordable housing and other reforms. Protesters carried banners saying: “Gilad Shalit is entitled to a home too.” Speaking to a cheering crowd, Shalit urged the Israeli government to “pay the price required to bring Gilad home” – or resign.
The soldier was 19 when he was snatched by gunmen from three militant groups, including the armed wing of Hamas, the movement which has ruled Gaza since June 2007.
Shalit is still being held there at a secret location, without any contact with his family or visits by the Red Cross. The last sign of life was in October 2009 in a video recording released by his captors.