Shalit's mother: Gazans also want Gilad freed
Rallies held outside soldier's home and defense ministry to mark his fourth birthday in captivity.
Hundreds rallied in Mitzpe Hila on Thursday, to demand the government do more to secure the release of captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.
Shalit, originally from Mitzpe Hila, will turn 23 on Friday. Shalit was captured during a cross-border raid by Hamas militants in 2006 that left three IDF soldiers dead.
Shalit's mother Aviva addressed the protestors, saying "hundreds of thousands of residents of Gaza are paying a heavy price for this adventure launched by our government three years ago. With poverty, leveled houses, and they can't allay their suffering."
Shalit added "the families of Palestinian prisoners are also waiting for the day they return home."
The rally was attended by hundreds of demonstrators, in addition to Karnit and Shlomo Goldwasser, the widow and father and IDF soldier Ehud Goldwasser, killed by Hezbollah in a raid that sparked the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006. The rally was also attended by a lone member of Knesset, the Likud's Miri Regev.
Aviva also addressed her son in Gaza, saying "I want to ask your forgiveness, Gilad. Forgive us for not being able to protect you, from not being able to prevent your suffering, even though it's not under our control. Forgive us for not being able to bring you home, in spite of all that we've tried."
Also Thursday, dozens of protestors rallied outside the Defense Department headquarters in Tel Aviv, demanding the government do more to bring Shalit home.
During the rally, protestors hoisted signs that read "Barak buried a soldier alive in Gaza", and "Ashkenazi ? free Shalit or resign".
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Wednesday that while Israel was committed to seeing the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, it would not accede to a prisoner swap deal "at any cost."
"We are committed to bringing Gilad home alive and well," Barak told a conference of educators in Holon. "We will continue to do everything possible and appropriate, though not at any cost, in order to bring him home quickly."
Meanwhile, officials from Hamas' military wing - including its leader Ahmed Jabri - departed for Cairo on Wednesday, marking an important development in a deal for the release of Shalit.
Jabri joined senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar, whose travel to Cairo was reported by Palestinian news agency Maan on Tuesday.
This constitutes a major development, as the last time Jabri traveled to Cairo was at the end of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's term when there were escalated hopes for a last-minute deal.
At the end of Olmert's term in March, Israel had refused to release 125 of the 450 prisoners Hamas was demanding in exchange for Shalit - those who committed the most serious offenses.
The two sides had also disagreed over how many prisoners from the West Bank would be sent to the Gaza Strip or abroad after their release.