Israel will revoke benefits and privileges from “terrorists” sitting in its jails in response to Hamas’s refusal to let the International Red Cross visit kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a dramatic announcement Thursday night.

He was speaking two days before the fifth anniversary of Schalit’s kidnapping by Hamas on the Israeli side of the Gaza border on June 26, 2006.

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A Netanyahu spokesman would not clarify which prisoners the prime minister had in mind, but it was broadly assumed that he was referring to Palestinians convicted or being held on terror-related charges or suspicions.

Gilad’s father Noam said in response, “We want to know why Israeli governments waited five years [to take such a step], during which time Gilad languished in a Hamas jail.”

Speaking at the closing event at the Israeli Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said that as a result of Hamas’s renewed declaration Thursday that it won’t allow a Red Cross visit, “I have decided to change Israel’s policy toward terrorists sitting in Israeli jails.”
                                             
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Earlier in the day the International Committee of the Red Cross had called on Hamas to provide some proof that Schalit, now 24, is alive, as there has been no sign of life in over two years. It also called on Hamas to allow it to visit Schalit.

For several weeks a legal team inside the Prime Minister’s Office has been trying to come up with an initiative to impose harsher prison conditions that would hold up before any appeals to the High Court of Justice.

A number of more stringent measures are under discussion, which are expected to cause a great deal of anger among the prisoners, butthey have not yet been revealed.

In his speech Thursday night, 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 exaggeratedly good 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 [degrees] 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 in the day ICRC Director-General Yves Daccord said, “The Schalit family have the right under international humanitarian law to be in contact with their son.”

“The total absence of information concerning Mr. Schalit is completely unacceptable,” Daccord said.

“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,” he said.

“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.

In rejecting the ICRC call, Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan told news agencies, “The ICRC should have talked about the suffering of 7,000 Palestinian prisoners inside Israel.”

Dozens of families of the Palestinian prisoners threw eggs and stones at the ICRC headquarters in Gaza City Thursday, damaging a guard’s cabin during a protest against the ICRC demand to visit Schalit.

Vice-President of the French Senate Monique Papon announced on Thursday that she supports the efforts to secure Schalit’s release.

“Our thoughts are with his family,” Papon told a Knesset delegation in France.

MK Daniel Ben-Simon (Labor) said this was the first time Schalit was discussed by the French Senate.

MKs Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud), Anastasia Michaeli (Israel Beiteinu) and Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) also visited the Senate with Ben-Simon.

In New York, in a briefing to the United Nations Security Council, B. Lynn Pascoe, under-secretary for political affairs, said, “We urge humanitarian access and his immediate release, and hope that prisoner exchange efforts bear fruit. This would impact favorably on the situation of several thousand Palestinian prisoners in Israel and the broader political atmosphere.

UNSCO uses its contacts with all parties to support efforts in this regard.”

In Israel this weekend, members of Schalit’s family as well as their friends and supporters plan to rally on his behalf at a number of events.

On Friday evening there will be a rally in front of Netanyahu’s Caesarea home.

On Saturday, there will be a noon rally at Kerem Shalom, close to the spot where Schalit was kidnapped.

Starting at 8 p.m. on Saturday night, celebrities, actors and politicians will participate in a 24-hour event, in which one by one they will enter a cell which has been built in Herzliya. Each one will sit alone for an hour in the cell in solidarity with Schalit. Among the participants is former hostage Hezi Shai.

On Thursday, Gilad’s parents Aviva and Noam went to Haifa to watch their oldest son Yoel graduate from the Technion.

Lahav Harkov and Reuters contributed to this report.

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