The family of an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas nearly four years ago said on Monday it would step up a campaign for his release, vowing to picket the prime minister's house in Jerusalem until their son returned home.
Noam Shalit, whose son Gilad was captured by in 2006 in a cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip, called a press conference to announce plans to walk from the family home in northern Israel to Jerusalem, where activists will set up a permanent protest camp outside the official residence of Binyamin Netanyahu.
The government has negotiated indirectly with Hamas for a prisoner swap deal to free the soldier in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli jails – but talks remain stalled, with each sides blaming the other for the failure to strike a deal.
"For four years now two prime ministers, two ministers of defense and two chiefs of staff have failed to bring back a soldier who set out on a mission and never returned – there is no other way to describe it," Noam Shalit said.
"Today we are embarking on a public struggle," he said. "We will not wait an hour longer. As in the past, we call on the public to join the campaign to free Gilad."
Shlait said: "Over the past four years we have been told that giving in to Hamas' demands will lead to more abductions. For four years they have been scaring us with scenarios of terror and 'strategic threats' that would result from freeing hundreds of prisoners."
"Are the state and security force incapable of handling a few more freed militants? Senior security officers have told me the threats are baseless," Shalit said.
In October 2009 Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, released a video showing Shalit alive and apparently in good health - but has refused to allow doctors or aid workers to visit him. On Monday the International Committee of the Red Cross called on Hamas to grant it access to the soldier.
The Shalit campaign's march will set out from Mitzpeh Hila in the Galilee on June 27, aiming to arrive in Jerusalem on July 8, said the organizer of the event, Shimshon Liebman.
"The family is rolling up its sleeves after putting too much faith in the decision-makers," Shimshon said. "They now understand that there is no choice: We need to pay the price and bring back Gilad."
Campaigners say that polls show 67.1 per cent of the public in favor of freeing Gilad in exchange for 450 Palestinian prisoners.
On Tuesday, Noam Shalit plans to hold meetings with cabinet ministers and Knesset members to persuade them to work towards a swap deal with Hamas.
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