'Hamas nixes Schalit deal over embargo'

Soldier's father: Aid crisis due to Islamists' inflexibility.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
June 10, 2010 04:25
3 minute read.
oam Schalit, father of captured Israeli soldier Gi

Noam Schalit rally. (photo credit: AP)

Hamas could insure the full opening of the Gaza crossings by releasing Gilad Schalit, the captive soldier’s father, Noam, told visiting Latin American and European parliamentarians in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

He spoke to them amid heightened international pressure on Israel to fully open the passages into Gaza, which are closed to all but humanitarian aid, in an effort to keep Hamas from building bunkers and missiles.

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Noam Schalit told the parliamentarians that a German-brokered proposal to swap 1,000 Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails for his son has gathered dust for six months, because Hamas has refused to approve it.

“The humanitarian situation in Gaza could be relieved in a few days if Hamas would approve the deal,” he said.

Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007, in response to Hamas’s bloody takeover. Israel has since insisted that the embargo won’t be lifted until Hamas returns Gilad, who was kidnapped in June 2006, at age 19, when his tank crew was attacked outside the Gaza Strip.

Hamas has refused to release Gilad, Noam Schalit said, because their own political interests are more important to them than the restrictive conditions under which the people in Gaza live as a result of the embargo.

The organizers of the six Gaza-bound ships that were intercepted last Monday were similarly politically motivated, he said.

They rejected his proposal that the flotilla be allowed to sail to Gaza in exchange for delivering a letter and or a package to Gilad, said Noam.

Hamas’s “inflexibility is inflicting suffering” on the inhabitants of Gaza and on the families of the 1,000 Palestinian prisoners who could be home with their families, he said.

He denied assertions that such a deal would help terrorists and encourage them to kidnap more Israelis.

As long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict exists, “there will always be that desire to abduct and kill soldiers and civilians,” Noam Schalit said.

He charged that Hamas has held his son in violation of international law and ignored calls set out in the UN’s Goldstone Report on Gaza, which stated that Gilad should be free and that pending this release, he should be allowed visits by the International Red Cross.

No one but Hamas has seen his son since his kidnapping, Noam said.

Some members of the international community have supported his quest to free Gilad, he said.

The European Parliament this year called on Hamas to release him and a similar resolution is likely to be passed by the United States Senate, he said. Germany has been heavily involved in trying to mediate a deal, Noam added.

Still, “We are not sufficiently satisfied” by the international community’s reaction to his son’s kidnapping,” he said.

“Gilad’s abduction is usually swallowed up by all the other problems of the Middle East. People do not always remember that there is this little problem of an Israeli soldier. People forget that it is a bottleneck issue and unless it is resolved, not much progress can be made with the Palestinians. That is why we expect the countries of the modern and the free world to demand from the Palestinians that the issue be resolved,” he said.

Noam Schalit addressed the Amisrael organization’s four-day Jerusalem International Conference, which attracted around 300 people, including more than 40 government officials, from Latin America and Europe. The conference, which was also addressed by cabinet ministers and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, aimed to advance shared values on a broad spectrum of political, legal and social issues.

Amisrael is a non-profit, non-governmental organization headquartered in Brazil. It is composed by individuals of different races, creeds and political inclinations who identify with the ideals of promoting peace and supporting the State of Israel.

Carmelo Rios, a member of Puerto Rico’s senate, said he was selected to attend the event because he chairs the senate’s powerful governmental affairs committee. He said he came to learn about Israel’s geopolitical situation and to see whether Puerto Rico should adopt elements of the Jewish state’s political system.

“It was important for me see the other side of the coin here,” Rios said. “Before coming here, I thought Israel was a militaristic country. Now I see that there are three religions living together side by side and that Israel is defending its land like any other nation would.”


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