Gazans: Release all Hamas prisoners

Rona Ramon offers personal prayer for Gilad.

By
July 4, 2010 23:07
4 minute read.
Mahmoud Zahar

mahmoud zahar 311. (photo credit: AP)

Gaza demonstrators Sunday demanded that Hamas secure the release of all its prisoners in a swap deal for captive soldier Gilad Schalit, as Israeli protesters urged their government to be flexible, so that it could bring the young man home.

Indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel stalled at the end of last year.  But thousands of Israelis in the last week have tried to jump start the negotiations with their feet as they joined Gilad's parents Noam and Aviva, who on June 27, began an 11-day trek to Jerusalem.

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Media reports speculated that the issue of Gilad's continued captivity in Gaza, was the focus of talks held Sunday in Cairo between Egyptian security chief Omar Suleiman and National Security Adviser Uzi Arad as well as Yitzhak Molcho who is a senior adviser to the Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Egypt has in the past served as a third party mediator between Israel and Hamas in the negotiations for Gilad's release.

But the prime minister's office on Sunday night denied the report.
Earlier in the day Gaza demonstrators rallied next to the home of top Hamas official Dr. Mahmoud Zahar Sunday and urged him to work for the release of all Hamas prisoners held by Israel.

Netanyahu has agreed to free 1,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, including 450 Hamas members,  in exchange for Gilad. But he has refused to release some of the most dangerous Hamas names on the list and has insisted that some of the prisoners not be allowed back into the West Bank for fear that they could travel from there anywhere in the country to execute terror attacks.

Zahar told the demonstrators: "We promise to do all we can for the hero prisoners to return to their homes and families. We have no plans to give up on our prisoners' freedom. We are close to reaching our goals of releasing the prisoners and having all the refugees return to their homes.

To the prisoners, he said "we won't give up on you, and no matter how long it takes, we won't give up before we see you free."

In response, Amir Gur-Lavie of the Campaign to Free Gilad Schalit said he doubted the authenticity of the march.

A neighbor of the Schalit family from Mitzpe Hila, Gur-Lavie spoke with The Jerusalem Post after the Herzliya leg of the march.

"You can not rally freely in Gaza," said Gur-Levie. He added that therefore he could only assume that the march was staged by Hamas.

Sunday marked the seventh day that Schalit family and their supporters have been on the road. Although they started from the Schalit's Mitzpe Hila home in the upper Galilee on June 27, they stopped walking for Shabbat and resumed their march on Sunday morning in Herzilya.

They were joined there by Rona Ramon, the widow of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon who was killed in the explosion of the Columbia space shuttle in February 2003. Her son, Assaf , was killed during a training mission when the F-16 he flew crashed in the South Hebron hills.

As she looked out at the crowd of supporters in Herzliya, Rona said, "The power of speech is diminished in a place like this. I offer this personal prayer. May it be possible to change what can be changed. Gilad is still alive."

Gilad's brother Yoel called on Netanyahu to conclude a deal for his brother who was kidnapped four years ago at age 19.

"I call upon you [Netanyahu] to listen to your nation and to do everything, more than you have done until now, to free my brother," said Yoel.

Marchers left Kibbutz Shefayim at 9 a.m. Sunday, causing massive traffic jams as the activists headed for Herzliya. One of the coastal roads was closed for the protesters until they reach Kfar Shmaryahu.

Drivers on the northern coast road supported and cheered the rally despite the traffic it caused.

After holding two events in Herzliya, the marchers continued onto the Ayalon highway, where they were joined by thousands of supporters.

Several lanes on Ayalon South were closed to traffic to allow the marchers to cross safely as they reached the Galilot interchange.

On Monday the family will march past the home of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and hold a rally in Rabin Square. In the afternoon, they will take a break from the march and travel by car down to the area of Kerem Shalom, along the southern border to visit the exact spot where Gilad was kidnapped.

At 5:30 p.m.conductor Zubin Mehta plans to hold a special performance of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at the Eshkol park near the Gaza border, in honor of Gilad.

Mehta said Sunday he hopes the concert will inspire Gazans to pressure the Hamas government to allow the Red Cross to visit the soldier for the first time.

AP and Jpost Staff contributed to this report.


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