Shalit billboard - Idan Yekutiel
Billboard in New York City calling for the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. Photo by Idan Yekutiel
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An internet campaign launched by 28-year old Californian Gal Sitty earlier this year to raise funds for a billboard appealing for Gilad Shalit's release, has finally achieved its aims.

The billboard, which reads "Free Shalit," went up in New York City on Tuesday, close to the United Nations headquarters.

The campaign's success comes just a few days before the fifth anniversary, on Saturday June 25, of the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas militants near and Gaza border in 2006.

The lead-up to the fifth anniversary has seen a burst of activity on all sides to negotiate his release. Last week, eight days before the anniversary, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy issued a joint call for Shalit's release as part of a deal with Hamas.

Israeli sources close to the negotiations said the international move carried large significance.

According to reports in the Arab world, there has been a renewed attempt at advancing negotiations in hope to secure a deal which would free Shalit. Israeli sources have abstained from estimating the chances of such a move.

Moreover, foreign media has reported that Egypt has been recently stepping up its involvement in negotiations based on the plan German mediator Gerhard Conrad outlined in the past.

Cairo would like to leverage its new regime's improved relationship with Gaza's Hamas rulers after it had helped draw up a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah.

However, Egyptian security officials warned over the weekend that Israel's approach to the talks could scuttle the negotiations and lead to Shalit's "disappearance."