Shalit's Father Writes to Meshal: A Prisoner Deal Would Help Gaza

Noam Shalit, the father of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, published an open letter yesterday addressed to the head of Hamas' political bureau, Khaled Meshal, in which he urged Hamas to accept the German mediator's latest proposal for a prisoner swap that would bring Gilad home.

In the letter, published to coincide with Palestinian Prisoners Day, Shalit noted that the proposed deal - which has already been approved by Israel's diplomatic-security cabinet - would free 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit, including 450 specifically requested by Hamas. While Shalit did not specify the names of these 450 prisoners, Haaretz has learned that the current list is not identical to the list Hamas originally presented, which Israel rejected.

The letter, which will be sent to Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip as well as the Damascus-based Meshal, stressed that this deal would benefit hundreds of Palestinian families, who would thus be reunited with their loved ones, as well as hundreds of thousands of other residents of Gaza, since it would pave the way for Israel to ease its blockade of the Strip.

"It is clear to all that the conclusion of the deal would immediately liberate the civilian population of the Gaza Strip from the stringent restrictions on the movement of goods to and from the Gaza Strip, and from the suffering to which this population has been subjected for many years now, as a direct result of the holding of my son Gilad in captivity for the last four years," Shalit wrote.

Noting that both the Goldstone Commission, which the United Nations appointed to investigate alleged war crimes by both Israel and Hamas during last year's war in Gaza, and the European Parliament had called for Gilad to be released, Shalit urged Meshal "not to ignore this decision of the European Parliament, which represents more than half a billion inhabitants of Europe."

"I want to take this opportunity to remind you, Mr. Meshal, that holding Gilad hostage for the sake of political bargaining, without any of the basic human rights that are obligatory for prisoners of war under the Third Geneva Convention, is a blatant breach of international law," he added.

Shalit closed the letter with a direct appeal to Meshal, urging him "to rise above every political interest of the Hamas movement that you lead, and to demonstrate leadership for the sake of the interests of the Palestinian prisoners and the welfare of the Palestinian people as a whole by convening the leadership of Hamas and approving, without delay, the generous German offer that has been placed on your desk."

This Sunday, activists for Shalit's release are planning a march through Jerusalem, from the International Convention Center (Binyanei Ha'uma) to the Prime Minister's Office. The marchers will carry a covered coffin to symbolize what they term the burial of the Israel Defense Forces' ethos of never abandoning a soldier in the field. The event is slated to coincide with the weekly cabinet meeting.