Shalit Family to Protest Outside Weekly Cabinet Meetings

Visitors continue to stream into protest tent outside Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem.

Gilad Shalit's family announced this weekend that starting today, they plan to rally outside the Prime Minister's Office during Sunday cabinet meetings. Shimshon Liebman, who heads the campaign calling for the abducted soldier's release, told Haaretz yesterday, "The public is with us - it expects us to do more and we will do more."

This weekend, visitors continued to stream into the protest tent the Shalits set up outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem. The well-wishers included former minister Yossi Sarid, Olmpic medallist Yael Arad, the actress Gila Almagor, MK Dalia Itzik and Maj. Gen. (res. ) Udi Adam.

Noam Shalit, R, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Avi Oha

On Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara held an hour-long meeting at the Prime Minister's Residence with Shalit's parents, Noam and Aviva. After the meeting Noam Shalit said he had not been told of any dramatic developments relating to his son's release, and that the family "had received no news."

"We have received no news yet that might calm us or change the situation. We'll remain in the tent as planned; there is no change. We'll stay here until Gilad returns," he said.

The elder Shalit added that the meeting in no way changed the family's intention of maintaining its protest outside Netanyahu's residence until his son's safe return, and that they did not have high hopes before meeting with the prime minister.

"The important meeting will be the one with Gilad, either at the Erez Crossing or at Ben-Gurion Airport," he said.

Netanyahu told Shalit's parents that the captive soldier was one of the topics raised with U.S. President Barack Obama and senior officials during the prime minister's visit to Washington.

Netanyahu told the Shalits that he hoped to enlist the international community to pressure Hamas and force it to respond to the offer presented by a German mediator for a prisoner swap (Hamas has yet to offer an official response ).

According to the prime minister's bureau, Netanyahu told the family that while in Washington, he had stressed "the need to apply firm international pressure on Hamas to immediately free Gilad, and the fact that for four years he has not seen a representative of the Red Cross."

Activists in the Shalit camp said no further meetings between the family and the prime minister were planned.

Recent weeks have seen Hamas take a tougher stance on a prisoner swap. Yesterday, a high-ranking figure within the organization said that "Shalit will not be released until Israel fulfills all of Hamas' demands."

The Palestinian news agency Maan reported that during a rally in Gaza City, Hamas parliamentarian Khalil Al-Hayya said Israeli intelligence had tried to gather information on Shalit's whereabouts by enlisting collaborators, but the efforts were doomed to fail.

Israeli officials have expressed hope that international pressure can bring Hamas "down to earth" and persuade it to agree to renew negotiations on an exchange.

Israeli officials said they believe the Hamas position could be changed by increased pressure on the organization from important players in the Arab world, including Syria, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, all of them major aid donors to the Hamas regime in Gaza.

The officials said they hope France and other Western nations will help bring Hamas to the negotiating table.