'We were moved.' Noam Shalit
Photo: Gil Yohanan
Gilad Shalit as seen in Hamas video
Photo: Reuters

Noam Shalit: Sarkozy said won't stop working until Gilad is freed

After Paris meeting, father of captive Israeli soldier says French president 'working in all available channels' to advance prisoner exchange deal with Hamas

Noam Shalit, father of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris Thursday evening. He said Sarkozy had told him his commitment to efforts to free his son was unwavering.


"The issue is close to his heart, and he is working in all available channels," Shalit said. "He promised he will never stop working until Gilad comes home."


Prior to the meeting, Shalit said he saw no immediate hope that his son would be freed soon, despite the release of a video last week showing him alive.


"We were moved to see him after so much time, after a period in which we hadn't even received a photo of him," Noam Shalit told AFP during his trip to Paris, were he is urging France to push for his release.


"On the other hand we are very worried, we don't see light at the end of the tunnel," Shalit said ahead of the meeting with Sarkozy.


Israeli authorities last week received the first footage showing Gilad Shalit looking healthy after more than three years of captivity in Gaza, where he is being held by Palestinian terrorists.


The video was sent in exchange for Israel's release of 20 Palestinian women prisoners.


Looking gaunt, the clean-shaven 23-year-old read from a piece of paper, at times smiling or repressing a grin, as he sat on a chair against a white wall in the footage made public just hours after the women were set free.


The exchange was widely seen as the biggest breakthrough since Gaza terrorists captured Shalit in a 2006 cross-border raid, and as a key step toward an eventual swap that would see Israel free hundreds of prisoners.


But Noam Shalit, whose son also has French nationality through his mother, is not so hopeful.


"For us, it is a step in the right direction, but that doesn't mean that a deal on prisoners is close, there has been no breakthrough," he said.


'We must continue our fight'

But the decision by Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza, to release the video was "a sign that they are under pressure and they want to move things forward," he said.


He said he believed that the video had had a powerful effect on the Israeli public.


"No-one can remain indifferent to a film like that," he said.


Noam Shalit believes that things have progressed much more rapidly since Benjamin Netanyahu became Israeli prime minister in March.


He took a swipe at Netanyahu's predecessor Ehud Olmert, saying Olmert repeatedly said "they were trying everything, that there wasn't a day that they didn't talk about it, but at the end of the day they got nowhere."


Shalit is hoping that his meeting with Sarkozy, who since the soldier's capture has personally intervened to try to secure his release, will lead to a breakthrough.


"We always thought France has an important role to play. France is a major player in the Middle East. Even today, although the German team is at the forefront, France has the possibility of helping finding a deal."


Israel and Hamas have held nearly three years of on-again, off-again negotiations brokered by Egypt, and which German mediators joined in July.


"France can act on several axes, and the Paris-Damascus axis is one of them," said Shalit.


The exiled political chief of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, lives in Syria, with which France is busy rebuilding once close ties after several years of tension over Damascus' role in Lebanon.


Senior Hamas official Mahmud Zahar said in a recent press interview that Shalit's release was "a matter of weeks, at most a few months."


Noam Shalit however said Thursday that "until we see a real breakthrough we cannot be reassured.


"We must continue our fight and not let ourselves be beguiled by all sorts of declarations in the media," he said.


פרסום ראשון: 10.08.09, 18:04
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