Thousands of Israelis participated in a rally Saturday night to urge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept a prisoner exchange with Hamas that would free abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Shalit was abducted in June 2006 by Hamas militants from Gaza in a cross-border raid. Hamas and Israel have been negotiating since then for his release, in talks mediated by Germany and Egypt.
The rally, which took place in Ra'anana, was an additional stop on the protest march by the Shalit family and its supporters, who are en route to the Prime Minister's official residence in Jerusalem to pressure him into accepting a prisoner exchange with Hamas.
Noam Shalit, Gilad's father, addressed Netanyahu at the rally in Ra'anana, saying, "We are asking, we are demanding, after four long years: Enough explanations, enough excuses, enough of the explanations as to why it is dangerous, enough foot-dragging. We are calling on you – don't ignore tens of thousands of citizens who marched behind us in a powerful wave en route to Jerusalem and the thousands more who waited for us at the junctions."
Shalit went on to urge Netanyahu to heed the public. "Listen to the public that is calling on you in the most decisive way to return his freedom to Gilad, to return Gilad to his home. Tens of thousands of people can't be wrong. Make the decision before it is too late."
The Shalit family was joined by some 20,000 supporters on Friday, as they set out on the sixth day of their protest march.
In a live address Thursday evening, Netanyhau told the Israeli public that Israel is willing to pay a heavy price in the negotiations with Hamas, but not any price.
Netanyahu said all Israelis wanted Shalit back safely but past experience showed that many Palestinians released had returned to carry out attacks on Israelis.
The prime minister added that he empathizes with the Shalit family, but "I see, as does every Israeli prime minister, the security of all of the state's citizens. Israel is willing to pay a heavy price for the release of Shalit, but not 'at any price.'"
"This is the truth, and I am saying it now," said Netanyahu, adding that Israel will continue to make every effort to bring Gilad home while maintaining the security of Israel's citizens.
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