Barak opposes 'free Shalit' march

By Yaakov Katz, October 20, 2008

Ehud Barak and Noam Shalit, father of captured soldier Gilad, exchanged barbs this week after the defence minister claimed that demonstrations calling for the soldier's release were damaging to negotiations with Hamas that are slated to be renewed in the coming week.

Labour Party leader Mr Barak said on Sunday that he loses sleep at night over the Shalit issue but that the demonstrations could be harmful since Hamas may interpret them as a sign of weakness in Israel and in response increase its demands for the soldier's release.

Hamas is currently demanding the release of 1,400 prisoners including prisoners directly responsible for the murder of Israelis, in exchange for Mr Shalit's release. Egyptian-mediated talks are scheduled to be renewed in the coming week.

"The demonstrations need to be considered seriously since we do not want to signal to the other side in a way that will cause it to raise the price instead of dropping it," Mr Barak said.

Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai told the JC that the demonstrations were not needed to remind the government of the need to return Mr Shalit from Hamas captivity in the Gaza Strip.

"If the government wasn't doing anything and had forgotten Shalit I would say: hold demonstrations. But we haven't forgotten him and we are acting all the time," he said.

In response, Mr Shalit's father Noam slammed Mr Barak and said that the government was given two years without demonstrations to free his son but had failed.

On Sunday, some 3,000 demonstrators gathered at Kerem Shalom - the site of Mr Shalit's capture - to call for his release.

Some 50 protestors burned tires and blocked roads near the crossing into Gaza, which since the truce between Israel and Hamas went into effect in June has been used to facilitate the transfer of essential food supplies to the Gaza Strip. The Shalit family has been highly critical of Israel's acceptance of the cease-fire, claiming that their son's release should have been included in the deal.

"Many in this country are asking for Gilad's release," Noam Shalit said, adding that the throngs of supporters and numerous car convoys that traveled south to participate in the demonstration at Kerem Shalom "proves we are not alone."



Last updated: 2:40pm, October 23 2008