Captive soldier Gilad Shalit was made an honorary citizen of Rome on Wednesday. Gilad's father, Noam Shalit, accepted the honor in his stead at a ceremony at city hall as part of a campaign led by the mayors of both Rome and Paris.
Earlier in the day Shalit held a series of meetings with Italian officials, including Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and the presidents of the parliament and senate.
The main event was held at Julius Caesar Hall on Rome's Capitoline Hill. Mayor Gianni Alemanno told those assembled of his ties to the Shalit family and to Israel. He met with Noam Shalit several weeks ago, when he visited Sderot, and called on all the capitals of Europe to give Gilad honorary citizenship. "We must bolster the message and all fight towards one goal," he said, "bringing Gilad safe and well to his family."
A giant photo of the soldier hung in the piazza, with the words "Rome wants its citizen Gilad Shalit free" - words Mayor Alemanno repeated at the evening ceremony.
Rome on Wednesday (Photo: AFP)
The city council voted to give Shalit honorary citizenship to coincide with Thursday's third anniversary of his capture in a cross-border raid from Gaza.
Noam Shalit also addressed the crowd, telling them of his son, who was kidnapped shortly before his 20th birthday. He expressed his appreciation for the support and solidarity shown towards Gilad and the family, and asked that those fighting for Gilad not let up.
"My son has been a hostage for three years, without rights and without being able to receive visits," Shalit said.
"The Palestinian people are also hostages to the Israeli state's embargo since my son was kidnapped. We are asking for Gilad's liberation as well as for the liberation of Palestinians."
Shalit met earlier with Gianfranco Fini, President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, who said the chamber's foreign affairs committee would issue an official call for Gilad's release. A similar message, Fini said, would be delivered to other parliaments in Europe.
Shalit also met with the head of the Italian Red Cross, Francesco Rocca, who said he would work to advance efforts to secure humanitarian visits with Shalit, who has yet to have been granted a Red Cross visit since being taken captive in June 2006.
In the afternoon Shalit met with Foreign Minister Frattini, who said that he would raise the issue of the captive soldier at the coming G-8 conference. He noted that Gilad's captivity has already been discussed at a previous foreign ministers' summit, and that a call had been issued demanding to know details of his health status and the conditions of his imprisonment. Frattini also promised to put out an official document calling for the issue to be part of Europe's international agenda.
In another meeting Italy's shadow foreign minister, Piero Fassino, said he would raise the issue during his visit to the Palestinian Authority next week.
Shalit's meetings in Rome were organized by members of the city's Jewish community. A representative of the community, Or Feldman, accompanied Shalit. Feldman said the community received positive responses from all the government officials it approached.
"Once again it was proven that the Italian government is a friendly government to Israel," she said.
Shalit will continue to meet with various officials in Europe over the coming days. On Monday he will testify in Geneva before a special investigative committee appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to probe the events of Operation Cast Lead.
While the State of Israel has announced will not cooperate with the investigation, Shalit is testifying as a private individual on the details of his son's abduction and the violation of his rights by his abductors.
The Associated Press contributed to this report