The family of captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit escalated their protest for his release yesterday, marking five years since his capture on the border with the Gaza Strip. Early last night, Gilad's parents, Noam and Aviva, his brother Yoel, and Yoel's girlfriend, Yaara Winkler, handcuffed themselves together and entered the secure perimeter around the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem. The family then sat down on the access road to the house. They were later joined by Gilad's grandfather, Zvi Shalit, and other family members.

"Everyone agrees it's time," Noam Shalit said. "For five years now, Gilad has been in captivity in Gaza, in horrific loneliness, with no link to the outside world. It's time that the Israeli government, which sent him on his mission, bring him home, and then do whatever it takes to confront this or other terrorism, if the need should arise."

Shalit said the campaign's only achievement was worsening the conditions of Hamas prisoners, and expressed doubt whether that would last. Sources among prisoners and activists said any worsening of conditions will not change their position on the swap.

Asked whether he believes the prime minister has decided not to go for a prisoner exchange with Hamas, Shalit said: "This is what we're here for, until we see Gilad. If we have to, we will escalate our moves until taking extreme action."

Meanwhile, 650 people took part in a protest rally at the Armored Corps memorial in the Eshkol region, close to where Shalit was captured. The Shalit family didn't take part, but a letter from Zvi Shalit was read during the rally.

"Those concerned with the talks speak to us now and then, pat our heads, but my beloved grandson Gilad is still rotting for no crime, like the last of criminals, in the cellars of Hamas," Shalit wrote. "Defense Minister Ehud Barak, whom I met recently, told me unequivocally that he was in support of the deal currently offered by Hamas, but the prime minister was opposed and cannot be moved. This doesn't cancel the minister's own responsibility for saving my grandson, because, being the minister in charge of the army, he is also responsible for Gilad Shalit.

"By withholding Gilad's rescue, Netanyahu is causing much greater damage to the country, to national morale, to the morale of IDF soldiers and recruits, than by releasing prisoners - it's clear to us that by refusing to compromise, the prime minister is betting on my grandson's live. I fear Netanyahu is waiting for us to hear that Gilad didn't survive the conditions he is held in, so that he'll have to pay a lower price for his return."

Defense sources said that the statements made at the rally were inaccurate.