Mashaal: Israel stopping Schalit release

Hamas leader says J'lem not listening to group's demands; Gilad's childhood friend speaks to Post.

Mashaal it wasnt me 224. (photo credit: AP [file])
Mashaal it wasnt me 224.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal accused Israel on Tuesday night of preventing the release of abducted soldier Gilad Schalit. In an interview to TV station Euronews, Mashaal said "Those who are blocking the negotiations on the release of Gilad Schalit are our Zionist enemies." "It is Olmert and his team who are putting up the barricades and not listening to our demands," Mashaal said. "We are happy to go on with the Egyptian mediation on the subject of prisoner release. But when we present our list, Israel refuses." "When Israel replies to our demands we will obviously liberate Gilad Shalit as soon as possible," he added. Every day as she passes Gilad's home, Shira Habusha thinks of her childhood friend, now 21, who was kidnapped by Hamas on June 25, 2006. "The pain we have all been experiencing for the past two years, it doesn't actually leave us," she told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, a day after the Schalit family received a letter from their son. "We know that we can go on with our lives and he is still there. This letter just emphasizes the helplessness that we all feel," said Habusha, who had heard about the letter, but not seen it. In the handwritten correspondence, Schalit wrote: "I am in bad health; I dream of the day when I will return home. I hope to return soon and demand that the government not abandon me." Hamas released the letter as part of a promise to former US president Jimmy Carter during an April meeting. Schalit's letter was faxed to the Carter Center's office in Ramallah on Sunday and was delivered to Schalit's parents, Noam and Aviva, on Monday. The Carter Center is working to allow Gilad's parents to send their son a letter in return, but Schalit's father said that to date, that has not been an option. The same day the letter was faxed, a group of Schalit's closest friends read a public letter at a communal Shavuot celebration in Schalit's home town of Mitzpe Hila in the Galilee. Their letter detailed the changes they had undergone since they last saw him. They noted that he was among the first of their group to join the army and that had things gone as planned, he would have been released from military service in another month. "We pray every day that your path will rejoin ours," they said. A Schalit family neighbor, Elana Levi said the lack of progress regarding Gilad's release, underscored by the letter, was frustrating. "I don't want more letters. The parents are happy for any word, but the letter just gives us a moment to stand on the side and forget the most important thing; that letters are not enough. Leaders have to take responsibility and take the decision to free him," she said. She too has not seen the letter, but said she understood its essential message was: "Save me, I want to come home." "There is nothing more true," she added. "We have to save him now. Every day he remains in captivity is one day too many," she said. Levi recalled how when he was first taken captive, she thought he would be released in a matter of days. "I didn't think in my wildest dreams that it would take two years. It is appalling. What if it were Olmert's child?" she asked. For two years, now, nothing in Gilad's life has changed, Levi said. "He is still in jail with no sunlight and without a hug from his mother," she said. Everything their community does, including the Shavuot celebration, is done in the shadow of his absence. "We miss him," she added. Habusha said that with each step she has taken after her release from the army, she thought of how he has not been able to move forward with his life. "I have to admit I feel guilty," she said. Habusha and her friends have sought ways to work toward Schalit's release, including sending a letter to the prime minister in February. They, along with their community and the Schalit family, are planning a ceremony at Mitzpe Hila to mark two years since Gilad's capture on June 25. Schalit's family and friends have received word from him only three times since he was kidnapped. In September 2006 the family received the first word from Schalit in a letter followed by a tape with his voice in June, 2007. Schalit's parents have kept most of the contents of Monday's letter private. Noam told the Post that the letter was not part of any deal to release his son and added that negotiations on that score were at an impasse. He did not confirm a report on Channel 2 that he had met with Yuval Diskin, the head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).