Tags: ML | Israel | Captured | Soldier

Israeli Soldier Marks Fifth Year in Hamas Captivity

Saturday, 25 Jun 2011 10:26 AM

JERUSALEM — Gaza Strip militants vowed Saturday that an Israeli soldier captured five years ago would not "see the light" until Palestinian prisoners held by Israel were released.

In Israel, some 400 supporters of Sgt. Gilad Schalit gathered at the border crossing where he was seized by gunmen linked to Gaza's ruling Hamas movement on June 25, 2006.

They waved Israeli flags emblazoned with his profile and demanded the government do more to secure his release. A relative read a letter from Schalit's grandfather faulting the state for failing to bring the 24-year-old home.

Schalit, a tank crewman, was taken captive after militants tunneled under the Israeli border, killed two soldiers at a border post and dragged him bleeding into Gaza.

Hamas' threat to continue holding him until its demands are met was delivered in a 39-second video uploaded Saturday to the group's website.

There has been no sign of life from Schalit in nearly two years. Earlier this week, Hamas rebuffed an appeal from the International Committee of the Red Cross to prove Schalit was still alive.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu retaliated by saying Palestinian prisoners would be stripped of access to higher education and other unspecified privileges.

Years of talks on a prisoner exchange, mediated by Egypt and Germany, repeatedly have sputtered.

Hamas has insisted that Israel release hundreds of Palestinian militants, including the masterminds of attacks that killed dozens of Israelis. Israeli officials have balked, arguing that releasing the men would put more Israelis in danger.

In the northern Gaza town of Jabaliya, an event was organized by families of some of the estimated 7,500 Palestinian prisoners incarcerated in Israeli jails.

Palestinian families sat with the pictures of their imprisoned sons emblazoned on birthday cakes. Number candles shaped like numbers were planted on the cakes, signifying the 12 to 22 years the men had spent in Israeli prisons.

Palestinian prisoners have reported that Israeli corrections officials have been confiscating cell phones that had been smuggled to them, and that leading Hamas prisoners have been transferred to solitary confinement.

Kadoura Fares, head of the Palestinian prisoners association, said Israel had already severely limited prisoners' visitation rights.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called the new measures announced by the prime minister "a violation of international law and international humanitarian law" and urged international intervention to block them.

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