Aviva Shalit at a Jerusalem rally to mark her son Gilad’s fifth birthday in Hamas captivity.
Aviva Shalit at a Jerusalem rally to mark her son Gilad’s fifth birthday in Hamas captivity. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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At least 1,000 people gathered at the protest tent outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem Saturday to call for the release of Gilad Shalit. Saturday was the soldier's 24th birthday, his fifth in captivity since his abduction in June 2006.

Speaking to the crowd, Shalit's mother Aviva said, "Gilad, my beloved son, today is your birthday. Once again, I did not buy you a present this year; I didn't bake a cake; you won't be able to blow out the candles. I miss you more every day. I will make one wish in your name - that your candle not be extinguished, that you remain healthy in your body and soul. I'm sorry for not freeing you yet."

The soldier's mother also addressed Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister's wife, who two weeks ago spoke out against the deportation of the children of migrant workers. "Your name appeared in the headlines due to your concern for the children of the migrant workers. I am obliged to remind you of one child who is already a young man. He calls out to you from Gaza. Please don't ignore him."

In response, Sara Netanyahu said she sympathizes with Shalit's mother and with the rest of his family. "My heart goes out to them and to Gilad," she said, adding that she "knows that my husband, the prime minister, is making great efforts to bring Gilad home, healthy and whole, as soon as possible."

The Prime Minister's Office said Netanyahu plans to invite the Shalit family for a meeting after he returns from peace talks in Washington.

Sarkozy: Shalit is a hostage, not a POW

Also yesterday, the Shalit family received a letter from French President Nicolas Sarkozy lamenting that all efforts thus far to secure the captive soldier's release had failed.

In his letter, Sarkozy described Shalit not as a prisoner of war, but a hostage: "Gilad is not a prisoner of war. Prisoners of war have rights. They get visits from humanitarian aid agencies and are permitted to correspond with loved ones. Gilad doesn't have those rights, because Giald is - it must be said - a hostage."

Sarkozy said discreet efforts are continuing to secure the soldier's release, adding that he considers the issue of Shalit's release separate from the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

The Elysee Palace has been in continual contact with the Shalit family since the soldier's June 2006 abduction, but the French president's letter to the Shalit family was the first of its kind. "Gilad Shalit's fifth birthday in captivity must be his last," Sarkozy wrote. Shalit holds both Israeli and French citizenship.

Britain also weighed in yesterday to demand the soldier's immediate release. "The thoughts of many in Britain are with Gilad Shalit and his family," the Foreign Office said. "His detention is unjustifiable and unacceptable. The British Government demands his immediate and unconditional release."