President Shimon Peres told the parents of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit that he was optimistic regarding the chances of their son's release, placing the blame for the lack of success in securing his release after 5 years in captivity on Hamas.
Peres' comments came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday appointed senior Mossad official David Meidan as the new Israeli mediator to negotiate Shalit's release, following the recent resignation of former mediator Hagai Hadas.
During a visit to the Shalit family's protest tent on the eve of Passover, Peres said he was "proud of the family and very proud of the people, united in supporting the release of Gilad Shalit."
"I'm optimistic that we'll see Gilad alive and well. It's been five years of very of hard conditions for him, five years are thousands of days and night," the president said, adding that Hamas was making a possible deal difficult: "I know it's hard to get the desired results, but that's because of who we're facing."
"We mustn't forget that Israel is negotiating with a ruthless terror organization devoid of any humanity," the president said.
Peres also told the Shalit family that Gilad's release bore a special significance with the upcoming Passover holiday, saying: "In moments like these I can't think of a more appropriate place to be in than in the Shalit family's tent, something which the entire country identifies with."
"Every generation needs to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt, and this time our goal is to bring Gilad home," Peres said.
The Shalits are expected to hold their annual Passover Seder in the protest tent later Monday, with many expected to join the family as they mark the fifth Passover the family has had to celebrate without Gilad.
On Sunday, Noam and Aviva Shalit protested along with dozens of activists outside the Prime Minister's Office during the weekly cabinet meeting.
Some of the ministers opted to pull over and meet the family, prompting some of the activists to accuse them of turning the issue of Shalit's release into a political one.
Aviva Shalit even broke her characteristic clam demeanor, telling Minister of Agriculture Orit Noked: "We've had our fill of sympathy and support. Do whatever you can to bring Gilad back home."
"The few [ministers] that pass through here express their empathy. We need them to pound on the table. We don't need empathy, we need Gilad," Shalit's mother said.
Reverting their criticism to Netanyahu, the Shalits said the premier was attempting to intimidate the public when discussing the expected price of a prisoner exchange deal, saying: "The prime minister's intimidations are unacceptable."
"People aren't stupid. They understand his brainwashing," the Shalit couple said.
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