Israeli PM faces growing public pressure over rescuing captive soldier

08:23, June 25, 2010      

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing increasing public pressure to step up negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israel Defense Forces soldier held captive by the Palestinian Hamas movement for exactly four years on Friday.

Six leading Israeli academics and public figures met in recent days and sent Netanyahu a joint letter, asking him to "do all that is possible" for the safe release of the soldier.

All six signatories to the letter are close friends of Netanyahu's fallen brother Yoni Netanyahu who was killed while commanding a special forces operation to rescue Israeli civilians held hostage in Entebbe, Uganda, in 1976.

In their letter, the signatories reminded the premier of the pain that struck him and his family when they first heard the news of Yoni's death.

They went on to emphasize that Noam Shalit, the captive soldier 's father, had also lost a brother Yoel, who was killed in the 1973 Middle East war.

Nachman Shai, member of Knesset (the Israeli Parliament), one of the signatories, who befriended the late Yoni Netanyahu in high school, said on Wednesday that the captive soldier "simply must be brought home."

"Our letter is detached from politics," Shai told Israeli daily Ma'ariv. "We united due to a shared feeling that you don't desert soldiers in the battlefield. That's the spirit that characterized Netanyahu and his two brothers. Shalit must be taken out of there (Gaza)."

Professor Yitzhak Roman, a physicist and teenage acquaintance of the late Netanyahu, said that he expects the Israeli premier to understand "better than any other prime minister" that four years in captivity are an "exaggerated period of time."

In the meanwhile, Noam Shalit, the captive soldier's father, is now in Italy to take part in a large assembly that marks four years since his son became a prisoner of war, an event due to be held at the Colosseum in Rome on Thursday.

Shalit was captured by the Gaza-based Hamas in late June 2006, a couple of weeks before the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War. Since then, his family has undertaken a campaign to bring about his release, which included personal appeals to world leaders.

The Israeli government, on its part, claimed that it has spared no efforts and resources in its negotiations with the soldier's captors.

Netanyahu has appointed Hagai Hadas, a former veteran member of Mossad, to lead the complex negotiations with Hamas on a full-time basis more than a year ago, but these efforts, too, didn't bear fruits.

Israel has so far agreed to release hundreds of Palestinians held in Israel prisons in exchange for the soldier. Hamas said that number isn't enough. The Israeli public is growing restless as time lingers on.

The public campaign to pressure Netanyahu and his cabinet to succumb to Hamas' demands for freeing the soldier will take a significant upturn next week.

Thousands of Israelis, among them national sports, culture, media and entertainment figures, will embark on a week-long protest march that will begin at the captive soldier's family home in northern Israel and end at the Prime Minister's official residence in Jerusalem.

Source: Xinhua


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