Peres Invites Gilad Shalit's Family to Meet Pope

After returning from talks in U.S., kidnapped soldier's father hopes pontiff's influence will free his son.

President Shimon Peres has invited the family of captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit to meet Pope Benedict XVI at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on Monday.

Peres has received the pope's agreement to meet with the Shalit family and help them bring back Gilad, who was abducted by Palestinian militants near the Gaza border in June 2006, the President's Residence said in a statement.

The meeting will take place after Peres meets with Benedict on Monday afternoon.

"It's well-known that the pope has a lot of influence in the world, and I hope that through him we will succeed in advancing the Gilad issue," said Noam Shalit, Gilad's father.

He returned to Israel a week ago after meeting with U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell and other advisers to U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington.

Peres' office sees the meeting with the Shalit family as highly significant, since the pope represents more than 1.5 billion people and meets with world leaders and religious figures around the world, making him a potentially valuable ally in the struggle to free Shalit.

Shalit has been in captivity for 1050 days.