Shalits Visit Elysee Palace to Thank France for Helping End Gilad's Captivity

PARIS - Noam and Aviva Shalit accompanied their son Gilad to the Elysee Palace yesterday to meet Nicolas Sarkozy, and to thank the French president personally for his role in obtaining Gilad's release from Hamas captivity.

Noam Shalit, who was in frequent contact with Sarkozy during Gilad's five years of imprisonment in Gaza, said the family was "very moved" by the meeting, during which Gilad also spoke on the phone to French first lady Carla Bruni and thanked her as well.

Later yesterday, Noam and Aviva Shalit sat next to Sarkozy at the annual gala dinner of the CRIF, the representative Council of French Jewish Institutions. The Shalits, the evening's guests of honor, were not joined by their son because he finds it difficult to be in big crowds, and his integration back into everyday life is a "slow process," said Noam Shalit.

Shalit, who received a standing ovation when he and Sarkozy went up to the podium, and thanked the guests in French, as well as "all the other French people - the well-known ones and the anonymous ones - who kept Gilad's spirit alive and were with us on this journey."

He also thanked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for going ahead with a prisoner-exchange deal to bring Gilad Shalit home.

Sarkozy, speaking after Shalit, said: "I always said that Gilad was a French national," adding, "It is France's job to stand by every one of its citizens." Meanwhile, another Israeli family found itself shut out of the CRIF dinner.

The father and finance of Lee Zeitouni, who was killed in a hit and run incident in Tel Aviv, allegedly by two French nationals arrived in Paris earlier this week and wanted to attend the dinner.

"Our goal is to ask those who caused the death of Lee and the community where they live to take responsibility for this act," Zeitouni's father, Itzik Zeitouni, said at a press conference Monday, speaking in French.

But Richard Prasquier, CRIF's president, explained that the organization doesn't want "the annual dinner to turn into a media event around this tragedy." He said the family was not invited because CRIF did not know they were in Paris.

Last week, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France would act to bring the two men to justice, but that French law did not allow for the two men to be extradited to Israel. Sarkozy reiterated this at the CRIF dinner, saying, "France can never extradite its nationals and we cannot and will not make exceptions, never." But, he added, "We assure you that we will not allow this crime to go unpunished."