European Parliament Calls for Immediate Release of Abducted IDF Soldier

Unprecedented move comes after soldier's father met parliament chief; Israel slams stance on Goldstone.

In an unprecedented move, the European Parliament on Thursday passed by majority vote a call for the immediate release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.

Members of parliament from across the political spectrum signed on to a letter to European Union foreign policy chief Lady Catherine Ashton ahead of her visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories next week.

The letter demands that Shalit, who also holds French citizenship, be released and voices protest against the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip.

Noam Shalit, the father of the abducted soldier, called the letter sharp and clear and said he hoped that it would encourage the Israeli government to work toward his son's release and the Hamas government to submit its response to Israel's offer at once.

The elder Shalit met Wednesday in Strasbourg, France, with European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek and updated him on the stalled negotiations with Hamas on a potential prisoner exchange. Hamas has not responded to Israel's most recent proposal.

Shalit urged for the EU resolution to call for the immediate release of his son and to demand that he be treated according to the Geneva Convention.

Shalit added that the Red Cross should be allowed to visit his son and that information on his condition be passed along to the Shalit family.

Also Wednesday, the European Parliament urged its 27-member states to monitor the Israeli and Palestinian probes into alleged war crimes committed during last year's late-winter conflict in Gaza.

The resolution backed the findings of a UN-appointed expert panel chaired by South African Judge Richard Goldstone, which concluded that both sides committed war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during the war that began in December 2008 and ended in January 2009.

The parliamentary move, which would give the EU an unprecedented role in evaluating the progress of Israel's war crimes probe, was sharply criticized by Israel.

"Israel regrets the decision of the European Parliament, which does not avail the peace process and is not commensurate with the principles of law and justice," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement released on Thursday.

"At a time of international efforts to initiate proximity talks, it is regrettable that the European Parliament chose to express a position on such a controversial issue, which has already been discussed in other forums," said the statement.

"Israel is committed to the peace process and will continue to protect its citizens and soldiers."