Campaigners keep the fires lit for Shalit

New impetus on the streets of Israel as his fifth year in captivity approaches


The fifth anniversary of the capture of Gilad Shalit has rekindled the debate over the price worth paying for his release. A flurry of diplomatic activity in Israel in recent weeks has so far failed to deliver a breakthrough.

On Shabbat, June 25, it will be five years to the day in which Palestinian fighters attacked a tank by Kerem Shalom, killed two and took Shalit.

This weekend demonstrators will again urge the government to step in. There will be a rally by the spot where he was captured and celebrities will spend an hour in a mock prison cell.

Gilad's mother, Aviva, told Yediot Ahronot: "In this country we sanctify the dead, not the living. If Gilad had been killed, it would have absolved the decision-makers, but Gilad is alive and they cannot leave him there."

The government refuses to release terrorists serving life for killing civilians in exchange for Shalit. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has avoided direct confrontation with the Shalit family but a source in his office said this week: "We have to remember that in the past, many terrorists who were released, returned to terror and murdered dozens more."

On Tuesday, Hamas sources claimed they had foiled an Israeli attempt to capture a military leader to gain information on Shalit's whereabouts.

In recent weeks, the new Egyptian government has tried to step up its efforts to broker a deal. But despite a number of visits to Cairo by senior representatives from Israel and Hamas, there has not been yet any breakthrough.

Germany which has been active in the negotiations has also renewed its efforts, according to Arab sources, proposing a new deal by which Israel will release a thousand Palestinian prisoners - but not the biggest names on Hamas' list - and compensate with relaxations of the closure on Gaza.

Apparently Hamas has rejected this proposal. Shalit is also a French citizen and last weekend, President Sarkozy and Chancellor Angela Merkel, launched a joint appeal.

In Britain, the message takes to the streets - by cab

Amnesty International are planning a public campaign for the fifth anniversary of Gilad Shalit's captivity this weekend.

His cousin Hemda Garelick met Amnesty officials in London to discuss details. Members will now be asked to write solidarity letters to parents Noam and Aviva Shalit and collect letters for Shalit himself, which they will ask Hamas authorities to deliver.

Amnesty's Deborah Hyams said: "We will raise Gilad's continuing incommunicado detention again during meetings with the Hamas authorities, when we next visit Gaza in three to four months."

Prof Garelick said details of the campaign: "I want them on our side, but I tried to come over strong with our expectations. There needs to be a very public statement condemning what is happening. It's important we raise his profile outside of the Jewish community."

The Zionist Federation's director of public affairs Stefan Kerner said: "Amnesty have had bad press but this shows they are not as partisan as people might think."

The Irish Christian Friends of Israel presented a 1,431 name petition to Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore.

The Israeli Embassy in London has urged supporters to pay £100 to sponsor black cabs branded with an image of Gilad Shalit for a month.

Spokesman Amir Ofek said he hoped 200 taxis would be involved, adding: "Such unprecedented exposure would magnify each contribution made by the community to help bring Gilad home."

The Board of Deputies 'Faces For Gilad' campaign will launch in mid-July. Supporters will be asked to send in "mug-shots" of themselves, holding a sign asking for Shalit's release. Public Affairs officer Jamie Slavin said: "This will finally put a human face to the campaign."

The photos will be stored on a Face for Gilad website, and there will be a YouTube video montage of them. "Eventually, we want to take Faces for Gilad to the streets," he said. "Imagine 20 of us with cameras handing out leaflets in Trafalgar Square and snapping photos of members of the public demonstrating that they stand with Gilad."

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