The family of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit on Monday visited the site where Palestinian militants captured their kin in a cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip in June 2006.
Conductor Zubin Mehta led the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in an early evening concert at Kibbutz Kfar Aza, three kilometers from the Gaza border, in honor of Shalit.
The event was held in the midst of the Shalit family's 12-day march from their home in the Galilee to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem. Tens of thousands of supporters have joined them since they began the journey nine days ago and many continued along with them for the evening event at the Gaza border.
The family will return later Monday evening to Tel Aviv, where thousands are expected to continue with them along their march.
"We want to think of Gilad Shalit today, who is suffering for four years, without visitation and we want to do something so that visitation will be allowed and that negotiations will be rapider," said Mehta before the concert, which was organized by private supporters of the Shalit family
Dozens of Palestinian demonstrators gathered on the Gaza side close to the Erez border crossing, holding banners that read: "Both of us have the same goal and now you have the chance to release your son as well as our sons and daughters."
Some 5,000 demonstrators walked with the Shalit family from Herzliya to Tel Aviv on Sunday, where they stayed overnight and held a large protest rally in Rabin Square on Monday morning.
Gilad's father Noam told demonstrators that the march had reached "central Tel Aviv after a long and grueling journey, with thousands and tens of thousands of civilians behind us, who walked in extreme heat of the height of summer to encourage us not to give up until we have obtained our goal."
"Words, justifications, press conferences, and explanations saying why this is difficult or dangerous don't count," the soldier's father said, addressing the protest to Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. "What count are results only. I call unto you again and again, look at this mighty wave of civilians that follows us. That is the will of the people."
Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai praised the marchers' endeavor. "The journey for Gilad, which has long turned into mass march, shows the differences between us and our enemies."
"Anyone who posits one soldier with a thousand terrorists exposes the contempt he holds for his own people," Huldai said, adding that in Israel "thousands come out and protest without anyone silencing them."
Tel Aviv chief rabbi Yisrael Lau told the amassed crowds that he would trade places with Gilad to comfort the soldier's family. "The "heart of an entire people goes out to this noble but tormented family," he said.
Thousands of protesters spent the early part of the morning at the Tel Aviv home of Defense Minister Ehud Barak. The Shalit family spokesman Shimshon Liebman called out during the protest: "Can you see us? Can you hear us? We can't hear your answer."
"As defense minister you are responsible for the soldier Gilad Shalit," Liebman added.
After serving as defense minister for two governments, said Liebman, Barak was responsible and should push for a prisoner swap deal. "You are responsible. You can do it. Say the words, and do it."
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