Punishing the Palestinian People Won't Free Gilad, Sarkozy Tells Shalit Family

In letter to mark Gilad Shalit's fourth year in captivity, French president condemns Hamas but praises Israel's move to ease Gaza blockade.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy wrote to the family Gilad Shalit on Friday, the fourth anniversary of his seizure by Hamas, telling them that punishing the Palestinian people would not bring about of the captured Israeli soldier's freedom.

In the letter, Sarkozy said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent decision to ease Israel's blockade on Gaza was a positive step and that the siege had not helped to hasten Shalit's release.

Gilad Shalit
Eran Wolkowski

The French president condemned Hamas for holding Shalit under harsh conditions. The 23-year-old, who holds French as well as Israeli nationality, has been denied regular contact with his relatives and visit from the Red Cross.

"Like every French citizen, I am disgusted by how it is possible to deprive a human being of his liberty and even – with the exceptional of a few all-too-rare opportunities – to deny him contact with his family and friends," Sarkozy wrote.

"This sort of inhuman treatment ignores internationally recognized conventions on the treatment of prisoners, foremost among them the right to visits from the Red Cross," he wrote. "No circumstances, even those imposed on the residents of Gaza, justify this type of behavior."

Sarkozy said he sympathized with the Shalit family's objection to easing the Gaza blockade without concessions from Hamas but remained hopeful that the soldier would return home.

"I understand the fears you have expressed over Gilad's fate in light of recent steps to ease the blockade on Gaza. But I remain convinced that we should not lose hope.

"Firstly, because it is wrong to believe that creating a state of deprivation for the [Palestinian] population will bring his release, which should indeed have happened long ago.

"But most of all because, as you have yourselves pointed out, it is the negotiations conducted over the past few months that contain the real elements that can bring about Gilad's freedom."

The French leader's letter revealed that there had been no new developments in talks to free Shalit since a stlled German proposal for a prisoner swap in early 2010.

"The terms of the proposed deal remain on the table – independent of other possible developments in Gaza," Sarkozy wrote. "France is taking continual and concrete steps to ensure this initiative comes to fruition."