Shalit family and 5,000 supporters march into Tel Aviv
Demonstration calling for release of captured IDF soldier has already caused severe traffic disturbances during the morning rush hour.
The family of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit was joined by nearly 5,000 supporters as they walked toward Tel Aviv, on the eighth day of a protest march aimed at pressing the government to secure a prisoner swap deal with Hamas.
Traffic was backed up along the Ayalon and coastal highways as the demonstrators made their way to the Halacha Bridge in the north of the city, which they reached at around 6 P.M.
Demonstrators are calling for a deal between Israel and Hamas to free Palestinian prisoners held by Israel in exchange for Shalit, captured in a cross-border raid in 2006.
The procession caused severe traffic disturbances during the morning rush hour as some 12,000 supporters neared the city of Herzliya, just north of Tel Aviv. Police closed off sections of the Ayalon Highway later in the afternoon as the protesters walked to Tel Aviv.
The marchers, headed Shalit's parents Noam and Aviva and his brother Yoel, left Kibbutz Shefayim in the Sharon coastal region at 9:00 A.M. en route to Herzliya where they held a rally at the city's Interdisciplinary Center.
"I call on Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu to listen to the nation and do more than he has done so far to free my brother," Yoel Shalit told supporters at the Herzliya college.
The president of the IDC, Uriel Reichman, said: "People have said this wave of protest is a sign of weakness. The opposite is true. What is happening here is an expression of Israel strength and of the principle that all Israelis are responsible for one another."
The marchers will hold another demonstration at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on Monday morning, and then head toward Kerem Shalom, the Gaza Strip border crossing where Shalit was seized 2006. Acclaimed conductor Zubin Mehta will lead the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra for a concert Monday evening in Shalit's honor at Kibbutz Kfar Aza, three kilometers from the border.
The Shalits will then return to Tel Aviv overnight before beginning the third and final leg of the march, ending in Jerusalem on Tuesday morning.