(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu urged Russia on Tuesday to press Hamas to release IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, who has been held captive by the group in Gaza for the last four years.
“Put heavy pressure on them,” Netanyahu told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who was visiting Israel before heading on to Cairo.
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Last Thursday, Schalit’s father, Noam, asked the international community, particularly in Europe, to pressure Hamas to free his son with the same vigor they used to push Israel to fully open the crossings from Israel into Gaza.
But for the last three days, since he and his wife, Aviva, set out on an 11-day trek to Jerusalem, their criticism has been leveled at the Israeli government, which they say has failed in its efforts to free their 23-year-old son.
The government, the couple has said, must now agree to Hamas’s demands that it release 1,000 prisoners in exchange for Schalit.
According to diplomatic sources, more than 100 names on that list are responsible for the deaths of some 600 Israelis.
On Tuesday, Aviva Schalit told Israel Radio that there had been a series of failures in negotiations for her son’s release.
She said the the family did not maintain that he should be released at any cost, but at the cost that was stated – 450 prisoners at the request of Hamas, and 550 of Israel’s choice.
Aviva Schalit stated that senior security officials had verified that Israel would be able to cope with the release of the terrorists, adding that the price needed to paid if Israel were not able to release him by other means.
Over the past days, the family has explained that it did not set the price and that it supports a swap only because there appears to be no other option.
Between 1,000 and 3,000 marchers joined the Schalit family as they hiked in the heavy heat Tuesday from Kiryat Motzkin to Haifa, and then to nearby Kibbutz Yagur.
In Haifa, they were greeted by Mayor Yona Yahav. His municipality had prepared a larger-than-life puzzle of the Schalit family, with missing pieces where Gilad’s face should have been.
Yahav gave the pieces to Noam Schalit and said, “Give them to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu when you meet with him [in Jerusalem next week] and tell him, ‘Now it is in your hands.’” At night, as strobe lights lit up the darkness on a large lawn in Kibbutz Yagur, local choirs sang of their hope that Gilad Schalit would be freed.
Kibbutz secretary Yael Sadt- Reshef said that those who lived there had taken Schalit’s cause to heart and added prayers for him to every holiday service they held.
Releasing him strengthens, rather than weakens Israel, because it helps educators teach children about the responsibility that a nation and its citizens have for one another, she said.
“You are not alone. We are with you,” Sadt-Reshef said.
She could not help noting that the arrival of the Schalit family at their kibbutz coincided with the end of the fast of the 17th day of Tammuz, when the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.
It also fell on June 29, which for local kibbutzim is known as the date
of the “Black Sabbath,” when British mandatory authorities arrested all
the men after finding an arms cache before the state’s establishment.
All three instances, she said, are examples of Jewish battles for our
national existence as a free people.
As he stood in front of the audience, Noam Schalit called on the
government to free his son. He thanked all those who had joined them and
given the family the strength to continue onward to Jerusalem.
“I hope that thousands will join us in the days to come,” he sa