Hundreds of Israeli soldiers and citizens chose to cast a ballot on election day for their kidnapped colleague Gilad Shalit, now nearing 1,000 days in Hamas captivity. Some said it was their way of protesting a dismal selection of politicians, while others wanted to send a message.
“In the upcoming elections ... let us show the government that we care more about Gilad Shalit than the prime minister does,” one of the petitioners wrote on an internet group that began the Shalit campaign. Supporters taped a white paper that read “Israel wants Gilad Shalit” over their ballot.
Suddenly though, the issue is leading Israel’s cabinet agenda. Shalit's fate could be resolved this week as outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert seeks to leave office with a positive legacy rather than the cloud of corruption allegations that forced him to call for new elections in the first place.
“The security of residents of the South and the release of Gilad Shalit are currently at the top Israel’s priorities,” Olmert said, speaking at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on Sunday. “There are those who might say it is a point of weakness, others will call it a point of great strength that the life of one is so important to us.”
Olmert has a “strong need (for) some kind of an achievement, such as the release of the Israeli soldier,” said Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official in Gaza.
Hamas has presented Egyptian negotiators with its demands: the return of about 1,000 prisoners - perpetrators of some of the worst attacks in the second intifada - and the opening of border crossings. The last time Israel exchanged prisoners, in July, two soldiers’ bodies were returned to the Jewish state in exchange for five Lebanese prisoners including Samir Kuntar, who killed a four year old, her father and a policeman in cold blood in 1979.
Volunteers, who have been holding vigil for Shalit outside the prime minister’s official residence for months now, say Israel must show it cares about its soldier’s lives.
“(The Palestinians) don’t care about their people like we do. They send them to die like it’s nothing,” said Varda Schmerler. “We care about each kid.”
Hamas, meanwhile, is rebuilding its arms smuggling tunnels destroyed in the Israeli offensive in Gaza, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter told the cabinet Sunday.
“When Hamas speaks about the reconstruction of Gaza, they are talking about reconstruction of their supply of rockets, which will be fired into Israel,” he said.
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