Israelis block Gaza aid to protest soldier's captivity

Tue Jun 23, 2009 9:57am EDT
 
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KEREM SHALOM, Israel, June 23 (Reuters) - Hundreds of Israeli protesters temporarily blocked goods from reaching the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Tuesday, demanding the release of an Israeli soldier who was captured by militants three years ago.

The protesters, waving signs and carrying posters of 22-year-old Gilad Shalit, cut off the approach to three major crossings into the Gaza Strip while dozens of trucks, loaded with aid, waited outside.

Israel tightened its blockade of the impoverished enclave, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, after militants tunneled into Israel and captured Shalit in a deadly raid in June 2006.

The Jewish state has said it will not remove its blockade of the Gaza Strip until Shalit has been freed.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said the crossings were closed temporarily due to the protests, marking three years since Shalit's abduction, but were later reopened to allow in the supplies.

In his three years of captivity, no Israeli or international groups have been allowed to visit Shalit, and except for a few letters and a tape recorded voice message, he has been kept incommunicado.

"We want to stop the supplies, outside of the necessary medical supplies, etc, from getting in so that they understand the plight of Gilad Shalit and that he has been denied such human rights for three years," said one woman, wearing a sticker on her shirt that said, "Gilad is still alive".

Protesters have gathered in the past to try to block aid and cash shipments from entering the territory, which Hamas Islamists seized from forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in fighting in 2007.

Egypt had been mediating negotiations to secure a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas, but Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said on Sunday during a visit to Cairo that no talks were currently being held.

Hamas has demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including long-term inmates accused of carrying out attacks against Israelis, in exchange for Shalit.

Israel holds about 11,000 Palestinians in its jails, and their imprisonment is an emotive issue to Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu named former senior Mossad intelligence agency operative Haggai Hadas last month to spearhead efforts to free Shalit.

"I hope the message will reach the people of Gaza and their leaders," said Noam Shalit, Gilad's father, outside the Erez border crossing. (Writing by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)



 

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