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Thousands of Israelis call for Gilad Shalit release

Latest update : 2008-10-19

Thousands of Israelis gathered on Sunday denouncing their government's failure to recover captured reservist Gilad Shalit, forcing Israeli officials to shut down one of the main goods crossings into the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Thousands of Israelis on Sunday protested their government's failure to recover a captured soldier near the site where he was seized on the edge of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Three thousand demonstrators gathered at the site, according to Israeli police, with many of the demonstrators wearing shirts bearing the portrait of the 21-year-old reservist and the caption "Gilad Shalit is still alive."

The crowds held banners reading "Gilad Shalit, we have been waiting for you for two years," and "No more Ron Arad, Free Gilad," referring to an Israeli airman who disappeared in south Lebanon in 1986.

Protestors began gathering at the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing -- one of the main goods terminals supplying the besieged Gaza Strip -- in the early hours, burning tyres and forced the army to delay the crossing's opening.

The crossing was eventually allowed to open, allowing some 80 trucks to bring food and medical aid into the impoverished territory of 1.5 million people, which has been ruled by the Islamist Hamas movement since June 2007.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak told Israeli army radio every effort is being made to bring Shalit home but warned that such demonstrations could "raise the price of his release" by encouraging Hamas to increase its demands.

Hamas wants the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit, who was seized by Gaza militants in a deadly cross-border raid in June 2006.

Noam Shalit, father of the missing soldier and the public face of the campaign for his release, rejected Barak's comments.

"The government had almost two and a half years to bring Gilad back without demonstrations and without protests, but failed to do so," Shalit told the Ynet news service on his way to the rally.

Israel has sealed Gaza off to all but limited humanitarian aid since June 2007 when Hamas -- which is sworn to the destruction of the Jewish state -- seized power after routing forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

The blockade has remained in place despite a four-month truce that has virtually halted the near-daily rocket attacks Palestinian militants used to launch on Israeli communities near the Gaza border.

Date created : 2008-10-19