Noam Schalit: Sarkozy says Gilad alive

After meeting French president, kidnapped soldier's father says issue of release "complex, sensitive."

noam schalit rally kerem shalom 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
noam schalit rally kerem shalom 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Noam Schalit, father of captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris on Tuesday night. After the meeting, Schalit said that Sarkozy had told him that Gilad, held captive in Gaza since 2006, was alive. "According to the gist of what I heard, there's motion to free Gilad. Tonight we have a bit more hope, but the issue is complex and sensitive, and I can't elaborate any more," he told reporters. The soldier's father has had continued contact with Sarkozy's advisers as part of efforts to secure his son's release from Hamas captivity. "He knows that Gilad is alive," Noam Schalit said after the meeting with Sarkozy at the French presidential palace. Schalit spoke in rough French and Hebrew through a translator. According to the Elysées Palace, Sarkozy has been in contact with both Syria and Qatar on the matter. French lawmaker Philippe Marini was quoted by Reuters Tuesday as saying that France had asked Syria to put pressure on Hamas to release the captured soldier. He said Sarkozy had spoken with Syrian President Bashar Assad by telephone. "Mr Schalit is an Israeli soldier but he is also a French national. We insist on this because it is our duty to defend our citizens," Marini was quoted as saying. According to the Reuters report, Marini insinuated that the soldier's release was related to the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and the opening of the crossings to the Strip. In September 2008, Sarkozy helped deliver a letter from Noam and Aviva Schalit to their son in Gaza. During a trip to Paris in October, Noam spoke with aides of Sarkozy, whom he thanked for ensuring that the letter was delivered to his son. Schalit met with Sarkozy in Israel in June of 2008 and once before in France and told The Jerusalem Post that the French president had "promised to do as much as he could." Meanwhile, senior Hamas official Ayman Taha told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper on Tuesday that talks over Schalit's release should not start from scratch, but from where they left off. Taha also said that the truce declared at the end of Operation Cast Lead was set until February 5 with a view to reaching a longer term cease-fire agreement before that date. On Monday, Taha, who is currently in Cairo to discuss the cease-fire with Israel, said that Israel had offered to open the Gaza crossings and free 1,000 prisoners in exchange for Schalit. Taha spoke to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram after meeting with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. An Israeli defense official had said on Sunday that Jerusalem was considering linking the opening of the Gaza crossings with negotiations for Schalit's release. Tovah Lazaroff, Herb Keinon, Yaakov Katz and AP contributed to this report.