Efforts are intensifying for the release of Israeli hostage Gilad Shalit on the fifth anniversary of his capture by the terrorist organization Hamas.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel had accepted a German-mediated deal for Shalit's release, and was awaiting Hamas' response.
"This proposal was harsh; it was not simple for the State of Israel," Netanyahu said Sunday according to a statement released after the weekly Cabinet meeting. "However, we agreed to accept it in the belief that it was balanced between our desire to secure Gilad's release and to prevent possible harm to the lives and security of the Israeli people. As of now, we have yet to receive Hamas's official answer to the German mediator's proposal."
Mass rallies were planned this weekend in Israel, including a protest Saturday outside Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Caesaria, the Shalit campaign’s weekly protest in Jerusalem on Sunday and a 24-hour event at Herzliya Studios, Israel’s largest TV facility, where dozens of celebrities and politicians will each spend an hour in “solitary confinement” in solidarity with the captured soldier.
A rally was also planned for the Italian capital of Rome, where the mayor was to help release 1,826 yellow balloons, corresponding to the number of days Shalit has been in captivity.
On Friday, The Obama administration called for Gilad Shalit's immediate release. "Nearly five years have now passed since Hamas terrorists crossed into Israel and abducted Gilad Shalit," it said. "During this time, Hamas has held him hostage without access by the International Committee of the Red Cross, in violation of the standards of basic decency and international humanitarian demands. As the anniversary of his capture approaches, the United States condemns in the strongest possible terms his continued detention, and joins other governments and international organizations around the world in calling on Hamas to release him immediately."
France's foreign minister, Alain Juppe, said France "has not forgotten Gilad Schalit" and noted that he is the French hostage held the longest in captivity.
"On the eve of the sad anniversary of the fifth year of Gilad Schalit's captivity, I want to reiterate that the situation of our compatriot, held in defiance of the most basic principles of international humanitarian law, is unacceptable," Juppe said in the statement, which was posted on the website of the French Embassy in Israel.
Shalit is a citizen of both France and Israel, and according to the website meetgilad.com is an honorary citizen of Paris, Rome, New Orleans and Miami. He has also just been named an honorary citizen of Baltimore.
Twelve Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights organizations issued a joint statement Friday calling on Hamas to end its "illegal" and "inhumane" treatment of Shalit, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Some of those groups had never before spoken out on his behalf, according to a report by the International Middle East Media Center, which called the joint statement "unprecedented."
Amnesty International said in a press release that it is circulating a petition among its worldwide membership, calling upon Hamas to ease the suffering of Shalit and his family, and will present the petition to Hamas's prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has issued a statement saying the lack of information about Shalit was “unacceptable,” and demanded that Hamas issue proof immediately that he is still alive.
Shalit, 24, was captured on June 25, 2006, taken across the border from Israel into Gaza, and has been held since then by Hamas.
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