Shalit's father makes international appeal

Through the international media, the father of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit appealed to his son's captors to treat him well. As the Shalit family endured a third day of anxious waiting without hearing any news of the fate of their 19-year-old son, the father, Noam, made a few brief statements to international television stations. "I'd like to ask Gilad's captors to treat him well and make sure he stays in good health. I'm sure Gilad's captors have families too and that they understand our feelings at this difficult time," said Noam. He added, "We're looking forward to hearing his voice and seeing his face soon. His entire family is waiting for him back home." It was the family's only contact with the media, which was posted across the street from the Shalit's home in the small hilltop community of Mitzpe Hillah in the northern Galilee. Throughout the day and into the night, Gilad's family remained in their home as neighbors, friends, army officers, politicians and other well wishers stopped by to give them information or offer them words of encouragement. Among them was the well-known former captive Azzam Azzam, who was released in 2004 after being kidnapped and held by the Egyptians for eight years on allegations that he was a spy. Sitting on a lawn chair in the yard of the Shalit family home as he waited to enter, he told The Jerusalem Post that news of Gilad's kidnapping during a pre-dawn raid at an IDF outpost on Sunday returned Azzam to the dark days when he was first taken. For a week no one knew his whereabouts, and he himself had no contact with anyone besides his captors. In Gilad's situation, it is likely to be even more frightening because he doesn't know Arabic. Azzam, who is a Druse, said that at least he could understand everything his captors said. "At every moment, he [Gilad] is worrying about his fate and praying for contact with his family and with Israel," said Azzam. "The minutes are ticking very slowly for him." He said he plans to tell the family to stay strong and to keep their faith in God and the state. "I will offer to do anything I can to help them," he said. Azzam was not the only high-profile visitor to arrive on Tuesday. Vice Premier Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Amir Peretz also made their way to the community of single-family homes. Peretz told the family, "I suggest we keep quiet about everything to do with operations. We are doing everything possible to return Gilad safely. All of Israel and the army are proud of the family's stance and the message that they are conveying." Peres told the family that he was using all the diplomatic channels at his disposal to help their son. Sitting outside the home, neighbor Ilana Levi-Zrihen said that the family had been particularly strengthened by the visits of the officials. The family, she said, has also appealed to the French government. Noam's mother emigrated from France, and both he and Gilad have French citizenship, even though they were born in Israel, she said. Levi-Zrihen was one of a number of community members who have worked during the last three days to help the family. Another neighbor, Or Be'er, said he was still shocked by the news. He left work on Sunday upon hearing of the kidnapping to be with the Shalit family. "I'm trying to do everything I can. We all are," said Be'er. "It's been hard to believe that Gilad was taken," said Be'er who has been trying to imagine what it has been like for him. "It's always on my mind. I just hope he's all right. He's a good boy. He doesn't deserve this," said Be'er.