Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Charles Dharapak)
Israel will revoke benefits and privileges from terrorists sitting in its jails in response to Hamas’ refusal to let the International Red Cross visit kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu said in a dramatic announcement Thursday night.
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Speaking at the closing event at the Israeli Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said that as a result of Hamas’ announcement Thursday that it won’t allow a Red Cross visit, “I have decided to change Israel’s policy toward terrorists siting in Israeli jails.”
Netanyahu said that while he was committed to upholding Israeli and international law and conventions, “we are not committed to anything beyond that. As such the exaggerated conditions in the Israeli jails will end.”
Netanyahu said that a number of steps would be taken, which he didn’t spell out in their entirety.
However, one example, he said, was that he was stopping the “absurd practice" of allowing “murderers in jail” to sign up for advanced academic degrees.
“There will be no more masters for murder, or doctors of terror,” he said, to loud applause and cheers from the conference attendees. “That party is over.”
“I believe that if we all place public, political and public diplomacy pressure on Hamas, we will advance Gilad’s release,” Netanyahu said.
He praised the leaders of the US, France, Britain and Italy who in recent days demanded that Hamas let the Red Cross visit Schalit.
Earlier on Thursday Hamas dismissed an appeal by the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide proof that Schalit is still alive.
"The Red Cross should not get involved in Israeli security games aimed at reaching Schalit. It should take a stand that results in ending the suffering of Palestinian prisoners," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters in Gaza in response to the appeal, which senior ICRC officials said had been transmitted privately to the Islamist group several weeks ago.
In an unusual public appeal, the independent aid agency said Schalit's family had a right under international humanitarian law to be in contact with their 24-year-old son, held incommunicado since his capture on June 25, 2006.
"Because there has been no sign of life from Mr. Schalit for almost two years, the ICRC is now demanding that Hamas prove that he is alive," the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.
The ICRC also reiterated its long-standing request to visit Schalit in custody.
"The total absence of information concerning Mr. Schalit is completely unacceptable," ICRC Director-General Yves Daccord said in a statement.
"We don't know anything about his conditions of detention. But from information available to us we have serious concerns about his fate," Jean-Pierre Schaerer, head of the ICRC delegation in Israel and the occupied territories, told Reuters.
"He is completely isolated."
The ICRC stands ready to facilitate an exchange of prisoners if Israel and Hamas come to an agreement in their ongoing negotiations, according to Schaerer.
But he added: "There is no reciprocity between the situation of Gilad Schalit and people detained by Israel. Both sides have obligations, independent of what the other side is doing."
"Hamas has an obligation under international humanitarian law to protect Mr. Schalit's life, to treat him humanely and to let him have contact with his family," Daccord said.
A demonstration for Schalit took place outside the Jerusalem International Convention Center on Thursday evening, while Netanyahu was speaking at the Presidential Conference. Protesters from the organization "Mothers for Gilad" called on Netanyahu to complete a prisoner exchange deal to bring about the release of the kidnapped soldier.
Schalit's parents Noam and Aviva have said they will spend Friday, the fifth anniversary of his capture, in a tent plastered with signs urging Israeli leaders to bring their son home.