shalit - Michal Fattal - August 17 2011
Gilad Shalit’s father Noam with protest paraphernalia. The campaign for his son has lots of tactics and support, but no strategy. Photo by Michal Fattal
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Noam Shalit, whose son Gilad has been held by Hamas in Gaza for the past five years, is ramping up efforts to get the captive soldier freed as the vote on Palestinian independence in the United Nations approaches.

Next month the Palestinian Authority plans to submit a resolution at the UN General Assembly asking member states to support Palestinian statehood.

Sources involved in the Israeli efforts told Haaretz that Shalit is expected to visit France, the United States and the UN headquarters in New York. A schedule has not yet been drawn up, however.

The sources say the fact that most countries have expressed support for Palestinian statehood also requires that the issue of Gilad Shalit be addressed.

"The world cannot recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip while a soldier is kept in Hamas' basements and is not even allowed visits by the Red Cross," one source said.

The Shalit family and campaigners for the soldier's release expressed skepticism yesterday about a report in London-based newspaper Al-Hayat; the paper claimed that the indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas, with Egyptian mediation, will resume at the end of the month of Ramadan.

According to the report, the decision to resume the talks was made in recent days during a meeting in Mecca between the head of Egyptian intelligence, Gen. Murad Muwafi, and the head of the Hamas politburo, Khaled Meshal.

The newspaper also reported about increased coordination between Egypt and the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. The paper said the interior minister of the Hamas government, Fathi Hamad, returned to the Strip from a visit to Egypt two days ago, where he met with senior Egyptian officials to discuss coordination in controlling the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

The head of the campaign to free Shalit, Shimshon Liebman, said the important thing is whether Gilad is released in the near future as a result of the renewed negotiations.

The Shalit family and many activists who support their cause marked Gilad's 25th birthday, his sixth in captivity. Noam and his wife Aviva took position in front of the Prime Minister's Residence, as they do every Sunday morning. The parents were critical of ministers who avoided them by entering the building through a side entrance.

At noon the activists held a protest at the Kerem Shalom crossing on the border with Gaza; they tried to block trucks carrying goods to the Strip.

The main activity took place in the evening, with hundreds of activists marching from the Yad Mordechai junction to the Erez crossing, where they held a rally to celebrate Gilad's birthday.

Noam Shalit took part in the rally and assailed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "Leaders who are capable of living with abandoning a soldier, an IDF soldier sent on a mission, and are unable to live with calculated risks ... are not capable of leading the State of Israel," he said.

The activists responded with cries of "Bibi Go Home," but Shalit interrupted them by saying that "before Bibi goes home, Gilad must come home."

MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud ), who is opposed to a deal that would see Gilad freed, spoke at the rally despite the protests of some people in the crowd.

"The way to bring Gilad Shalit home starts with cutting off funds to the Gaza Strip and Hamas; it begins with cutting off funds to the Palestinian Authority," she said.

In his speech, Noam Shalit said he agrees with Hotovely that there are many things the government must do, "but all this should have been done five years ago."