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  • Steinitz: Shalit's fate cannot be decided by demonstrators
Freedom for Gilad Shalit poster
A member of Romania's Israeli community attending an event calling for the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit on June 23, 2010 Photo by Reuters
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Olivia Pitusi
Yuval Steinitz Photo by Olivia Pitusi
Dudu Beher
Noam Shalit, June 14, 2010 Photo by Dudu Beher

A day before a massive rally for the release of Gilad Shalit, Hamas spokesman Ayman Taha on Saturday again blamed Israel for undermining a prisoner exchange deal that would see the Israel Defense Forces soldier freed from Hamas captivity.

Shalit was captured by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid on June 25, 2006. Gaza rulers Hamas have demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails in exchange for Shalit's freedom.

"The Zionist enemy is now trying to play games with the names of the [Palestinian] prisoners [to be released in a prisoner swap.] There are several reservations regarding the names, but without these names there will be no deal," Taha told the Arab media in an interview.

Taha also addressed accusations against Hamas for failing to allow Red Cross representatives to visit the abducted soldier, who has been held captive in Gaza for four years. "We can't allow the Red Cross to visit Shalit because he is not in a prison. Therefore, revealing his location would be very dangerous," he said. 

A member of the Hamas politburo Osama Hamdan said that the organization maintains its demands. Hamdan said that since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office in Israel there has been no progress on the issue of a prisoner exchange, but added that Israel was investing immense resources in attempts to locate the abducted soldier. 

Hamdan described Shalit's four-year captivity, away from the eyes of Israel, as a success that Hamas is proud of, adding that the goal of Shalit's capture is a noble one: the release of Palestinian prisoners whom Israel has vowed never to release. 

Earlier Saturday, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said that the decisions regarding the release of the abducted soldier cannot be made by demonstrators in the streets.

"The decisions [over Shalit's release] cannot be made in the streets, in a referendum or protests," Steinitz said while speaking in Be'er Sheva.

"If my son were abducted I would act exactly the same way the Shalit family is acting," Steinitz said, adding that "if we want to continue to exist, Israel must be careful not to ignore national security. We cannot act only according to our sympathetic emotions."

"Whoever says he [Gilad Shalit] should be released at any price, doesn’t know what he's talking about," Steinitz added.

On Friday, Shalit's parents Noam and and Aviva released a video in which they urge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to "pay the price" necessary to return their son home.

In a direct plea to Netanyahu, Noam Shalit said, "Gilad's life is in your hands. There is no time left. Bring Gilad home now, before it is too late. Enough talk. Now is the time for decisions. Pay the necessary price and bring Gilad home."

Noam Shalit assailed Israel's leaders for not doing enough over the past four years to secure the release of his son.

"For four years, an entire country with all the means at its disposal – two governments, two prime ministers, two defense ministers, two chiefs of staff – failed completely by all measures, despite the fact that Gilad is just a few kilometers from Israel's southern border."

Gilad's mother also implored the government to do whatever is necessary to get her son released.

"The state also has a responsibility for its soldiers," Aviva Shalit said in the video. "I believe that after four years in which an entire country has failed to bring a captive soldier home, it must pay the price before it is too late. This is not about a strategic compromise – a greater strategic compromise will be to abandon our values, which amount to friendship and mutual responsibility."

In the video, Noam Shalit also asks Israelis young and old to join his family in the protest march to begin Sunday from their house in Mitzpe Hila to Jerusalem, where they plan to demonstrate outside of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official residence - embarking on a quest they say will end only with Gilad's return.

Thousands of Israelis demonstrated across the country on Friday to mark four years since Shalit was captured by Palestinian militants.

"This time it's different," said Noam Shalit, Gilad's father. "We've said we would not allow another year to pass without Gilad, and that is what we intend to do this time. We won't go home without Gilad."

U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi urged Friday for Gilad's release, saying that “today – and every day – the Congress of the United States calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Corporal Gilad Shalit and all of the missing Israeli soldiers.

“For four years, Gilad Shalit has been held captive contrary to the most fundamental standards of human conduct. Kidnapped at just 19 years old, he has been denied access to medical care. He has not been allowed to contact his family," she added.