Sarkozy: I am with you with all my heart

In new letter to Noam and Aviva Schalit, French president states that Gilad's release is a priority.

gilad schalit 248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
gilad schalit 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
French President Nicolas Sarkozy sent a letter to Noam Schalit on Thursday in which he stressed that the release of Schalit's son Gilad from captivity in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip was a priority both for him and the French government. "My dear Noam and Aviva, I am with you with all my heart on this sad day. All of France is hoping, as you are, that Gilad will be released. Rest assured and be confident that I will do everything I can to make this happen," Sarkozy wrote. Although Gilad, 22, was born in Israel, he holds French citizenship through his paternal grandmother, who was born in France. In January, Noam Schalit traveled to France to meet Sarkozy, and was given verbal assurances from him that Gilad was still alive. On Thursday, French Ambassador to Israel Jean-Michel Casa traveled to Jerusalem and handed Noam the typed letter from Sarkozy in a large white envelope. The pair sat and spoke quietly together in the white plastic protest tent which the Schalit family and their supporters set up outside Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's residence 12 days ago. The Schalit family plans to stay there until Saturday, which will be the 1,000th day of Gilad's captivity. Sarkozy made note of that date when he wrote, "I know that this letter marks a date that is impossible to fathom, a date that none of us can accept." On Saturday night at 7 p.m. the family and its supporters plan to hold a rally on behalf on Gilad outside the protest tent. After that the family plans to return to its home in Mitzpe Hila, while supporters will continue to man the tent. In his letter Sarkozy commended the Schalits for their efforts on behalf of their son. The expression of support comes at a time when the Schalit family has been criticized by Israeli politicians and security officials for their public campaign. "I know that this letter will come to you while you are in the tent, which you pitched in Jerusalem, before everyone's eyes, to remind everyone of your determination to free your son," Sarkozy wrote. "Allow me to express my solidarity with you in light of the terrible experience that you are going through, and my admiration for your exemplary and honorable behavior. "Gilad is also a French citizen. Today all of France stands at his side," the president wrote. His government, Sarkozy wrote, continues to demand Gilad's release and seeks to convince all those who speak with his captors to help make this happen. "Gilad's immediate and unconditional release is of the highest priority for both myself and my country," wrote Sarkozy. Casa repeated a similar message to Noam Schalit. "Nicolas Sarkozy is personally, deeply involved in Gilad's release," said Casa. The ambassador's visit to the tent came two days after the latest round of Egyptian-mediated indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas failed to culminate in a deal for Schalit's release. Casa said that, outside of Israel's efforts, the French government has also worked for the release of Gilad and that Sarkozy mentions the matter when he meets with Arab leaders. "There are a lot of initiatives with different partners, but it is important that they stay discreet. France has done a lot, in many different ways, to encourage the liberation of Gilad," said Casa. But, he said, he did not come to discuss the details of France's effort. His primary motivation for visiting Noam, said Casa, was to convey the sympathy and commitment of the French government and Sarkozy to the family. "We understand that the Schalit family is disappointed, but we have to keep up the hope, the wiliness and the determination [to secure Gilad's release]. …We will continue to act to free Gilad," said Casa. Noam Schalit thanked Casa for his visit and said that he had given up hope that Olmert would free his son. "It's been close to 1,000 days and there is no sign of progress or a breakthrough," said Noam, who added that at this point, he was looking toward the new government for a solution. Nathalie Blau contributed to this report.