The Franco-Israeli community will open a public campaign on Sunday to get French President Nicholas Sarkozy to help bring about the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit. The campaign marks the one-year anniversary of the corporal's abduction near the Gaza Strip on June 25, 2006. Schalit has dual French and Israeli citizenship.
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"Sarkozy said that a Frenchman is never alone in the world. It is time he proves that to us," Sylvain Semhoun, the Israel representative of Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement party, told The Jerusalem Post over the weekend.
Semhoun initiated the campaign because of what he called the stagnation in efforts to free Schalit.
"We need to remind President Sarkozy of his responsibilities to all Frenchmen worldwide," he said.
There have been many diplomatic efforts to secure Schalit's release, but all of them have failed, a French official told the Post.
"Open channels between the Egyptians, the Israelis and the Palestinians have not produced a result, and neither has the secret diplomacy between the French government and [Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud] Abbas," the official said.
The bulk of the blame for Schalit's continued captivity belonged to the Israelis, particularly to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the French official said.
The official said he acted as liaison between the French Foreign Ministry and then-president Jacques Chirac's office in negotiating for the release of Schalit.
"In the end, we were pressured to abandon our efforts," he said, adding that at the time, Olmert was "pushed too far," and that timing also played a significant role. At a time when Kassmam rockets were striking Israel, the government did not want to release prisoners with "blood on their hands," the French official said.
However, both the Israeli and French governments deny that any secret negotiations or deals had been put on the table by the French. "Because he [Schalit] is French, it is true we were involved in the beginning, but not up to the point of striking independent deals," a senior French Foreign Ministry official told the Post from Paris over the weekend. "The negotiations are being handled by the Egyptians, and the Egyptians talk to everyone involved, including us."
The official also said there were currently no official proposals on the matter on the ministry's agenda, but that Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his advisory council would certainly discuss the issue.
"The prime minister has only worked with one mediator, and that is Egypt," Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisin told the Post. "The French have no hold over the people in Gaza."