Zvi Schalit, the grandfather of captive IDF soldier Gilad Schalit said Sunday that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is the greatest obstacle to his grandson's freedom.
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"The prime minister is my grandson's enemy number one," he told Army Radio. "I foresee my grandson dying there ... Netanyahu insists that [Gilad] returns to us in a coffin, wrapped in the national flag."
Noam Schalit on Sunday morning also issued searing criticism of the prime minister during a press conference from the Schalit family's protest tent in Jerusalem.
"No one will forgive you for abandoning Gilad, which is what has happened until today," the captured soldier's father said, speaking on the fifth anniversary of his son's capture.
Noam went on to say that Netanyahu's weakness in efforts to release captured Gilad endangers the values of the State of Israel. "The weakness and stubbornness that Netanyahu has shown in this process is a danger to Gilad's life and it's a danger to the values of Israel."
"We say to the prime minister, you are unable to put pressure on Hamas, to pay the price demanded. We're not talking about [paying] any price, about hypotheticals, just about the price demanded," Noam said.
"Gilad has been in captivity for 1,826 days, buried alive in Gaza, and there is no other way to describe it," the soldier's father told reporters. "During a period of five years, the Israeli governments that sent him [to Gaza] failed to bring him back."
Speaking about the proposed prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and the Israeli government, Noam said, "The prime minister is afraid to make decisions. There are risks involved, but the government is afraid to confront a few dozen terrorists who might return to terrorism [if they are released]."
Gilad's father added that the campaign for Gilad's release will launch a new effort intended to put pressure on the government, that will involve senior security officials expressing their support for a prisoner exchange deal.Netanyahu: Israel has accepted German-brokered exchange deal
Also on Sunday morning, Netanyahu told the weekly cabinet meeting that Israel has accepted a prisoner exchange deal to free Schalit brokered by German mediators.
"This situation is difficult and complicated for Israel, but we agreed to accept it in the interest of bringing Gilad home," the prime minister said.
Netanyahu said that Israel had not yet received a response from Hamas on the deal.
"We are involved in many actions ... in order to bring Gilad Schalit back home, safe and sound," he told his Cabinet. "The State of Israel is ready to go far, more than any other country, in order to secure Gilad's release but it is my responsibility, and the responsibility of those who are sitting here, to see to the security and lives of the Israeli people."
Commenting on his promise last week to revoke the benefits and privileges of Hamas terrorists in Israeli jails, the prime minister said, "We made a decision that the party is over. We are also operating in other ways [to release Schalit] which I will not elaborate on now.
"Israel is prepared to go a long way, more than any other country," he said.
Also speaking at the cabinet meeting, Interior Minister Eli Yishai called on the government to speed up negotiations over the release of Schalit.
"We must speed up negotiations and get this over with. Five years is too long," Yishai said.
He added that the government should stop the transfer of funds to Gaza to pressure Hamas into releasing Schalit.Campaign calls on public to send SMS for Gilad
Shimson Liebman, head of the Free Schalit campaign, also urged the public to send a text message to 5252 or log on to www.gilad.org and tell Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that they support the proposed deal of releasing 450 Hamas prisoners, some with blood on their hands, in exchange for Schalit, with the promised release of an additional 550 prisoners after Schalit is returned home.
On Friday, meanwhile, France’s Ambassador for Human Rights Francois Zimeray said releasing IDF soldier Gilad Schalit from captivity in Gaza would go a long way toward proving to the international community that Palestinians are ready for statehood in September.
Schalit, 24, holds dual Israeli-French citizenship, and France has actively lobbied on his behalf since Hamas kidnapped him on June 25, 2006, as he patrolled the Gaza border near Kerem Shalom with his tank unit.
On Saturday, Schalit’s family, friends and supporters marked the fifth anniversary of his kidnapping. Activists gathered midday at Keren Shalom and called on the government to procure Schalit’s release by Hamas.
In Herzliya, celebrities, actors and politicians began a 24-hour vigil in a prison cell they constructed. Every hour on the hour a different celebrity entered the cell and sat there. The event, which started at 8 p.m., can be seen live on Facebook.
In Jerusalem, Schalit’s family sat on the curb outside the Prime Minister’s Residence and chained themselves to a fence.
Hamas, however, warned on Saturday that Schalit would not see the light of day until Palestinian prisoners enjoy freedom in the context of a “dignified prisoner swap.”
Hamas held Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responsible for the consequences of the failure of efforts to secure a prisoner exchange.Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report