Gilad's parents had called for gov't to ensure their son's release is part of any end to Gaza op.
By TOVAH LAZAROFF
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's promise that he would continue to work for the release of St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit, who has been held by Hamas since June 2006, did not satisfy the 22-year-old tank gunner's family, friends and comrades who have worked to bring him home.
Schalit's parents called on the government not to abandon their son, by agreeing to a unilateral cease-fire that does not include the return of their son from captivity in the Gaza Strip.
Noam and Aviva Schalit held a press conference before the announcement of the cease-fire, demanding that the government not ignore the subject of his freedom for a second time. Schalit's release was not part of last June's cease-fire agreement with Hamas.
"Gilad's return has to be an indispensable part of any cease-fire or any agreement to end the war," Noam told reporters at the press conference in his hometown of Mitzpe Hila in the Upper Galilee.
Noam and Aviva Schalit have not spoken out in public about Gilad during the IDF's 22-day offensive in Gaza. Noam said it had not seemed right to mount a media campaign while soldiers were fighting in the Strip.
But in the light of the cabinet's meeting, he said he and his wife could no longer keep quiet.
"We see this as a critical widow of opportunity for Gilad's return, after two-and-a-half years in captivity, that will not come again," Noam said.
In advance of the meeting, he said, he had spoken with many of the cabinet ministers who had told him they agreed that Gilad should be part of such an agreement.
Noam said he was not opposed to a truce.
"We are for an agreement. What we are saying is that any agreement, whether it is bilateral or unilateral, whether it is with the Egyptians or with the Americans, or who ever, must include Gilad," he said.
"You have to remember that Israel went to war with two open accounts with Hamas: one is the rockets and the second is Gilad," he said.
Noam said he had been heartened by the soldiers who went into Gaza and told reporters that they wanted Gilad freed.
In the last two-and-a-half years, since Gilad was kidnapped, "the family has enjoyed wall-to-wall public support," Noam said.
People had written the couple and stopped them in the street to tell them not to give up and that Gilad must be returned, he said.
The family, he said, has heard nothing about Gilad or from him, since they received a letter from him in June in which he 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."
Now, Aviva said she hoped the government would remember her son and that the cabinet would not disappoint her and her family.
"This is not an easy period for us or for any one," Noam said.
In a letter he released earlier in the day he warned that Israel's failure to return his son would undermine the IDF's moral base.
The Campaign to Free Gilad Schalit added on Saturday night that it was "very worried" to hear that the cabinet had agreed to halt the IDF offensive in Gaza without having made any tangible progress toward bringing home Schalit.
The campaign added that it had expected a clear statement from the government that tied the results of the war with the nation's responsibility to Gilad.
The campaign said it was waiting to see if the firing would actually stop on Sunday morning before taking further action.
Activist Yael Katzer was so hopeful that Gilad would be linked to a cease-fire that she had not drawn up a protest plan for any alternative.
She was among hundreds who stood in front of the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Saturday night to demand that the government not abandon Gilad.
"We will continue to demonstrate for his release," said Katzer, who is part of the group "Waiting for Gilad at the Square."
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