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Jews will gather in major cities all over the world Monday to show their solidarity for the immediate release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped two weeks ago from his army outpost.
The Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization started organizing the rallies last Wednesday. Major world capitals including Washington DC, London, Paris, Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, and Santiago, Chile, will have rallies outside the Syrian embassies or in major community centers. A rally in New York will take place in front of the Syrian Mission to the United Nations.
The regional offices of the Jewish Agency have worked with other local Jewish organizations to help raise awareness of the rallies and to increase attendance. The New York rally expects to have between 700 to 800 people, according to Meir Nitzan, the Jewish Agency's Regional Manager in North America.
"The basic idea is convening the meeting, talking together and conveying the message of Jewish solidarity and the global initiative demanding to release him [Shalit]," said Nitzan.
Everything was set in motion last Wednesday after the Shalit family gave their consent for the rally. "They gave their consent and their blessing," said Michael Jankelowitz, the Jewish Agency's liaison to the foreign press.
The regional offices sent out e-mails and letters to the communities about the rallies. One e-mail sent from the American Zionist Movement read: "Last week a young Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was abducted by Hamas and held in Gaza. The order to kidnap him came from Damascus where Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal freely operates with the protection of Syrian President Bashar Assad. We are anxiously awaiting word and praying for Gilad's safe return to his family and his country. But we cannot simply wait."
The rallies will take place outside of the Syrian embassies or consulates to try to pressure the Syrian government, Assad in particular, to play a vital role in Shalit's release. The UJA Federation of Greater Toronto ordered buses to bring people from Toronto to Ottawa for the rally in front of the Syrian embassy.
The rallies will include speakers from various backgrounds, but a confirmed list of speakers in the various cities was not available at press time. Jankelowitz said some organizations complained of the immediateness of the rallies because their organizations needed more time to prepare.
"There will be continued pressure from these communities until he is released," said Jankelowitz. "This is just the beginning of the effort to help get Gilad free."