US: Help Gaza Now, Shalit Later

The US is pressing Israel to open up Gaza crossings without linkage to the freedom of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. His father Noam objects.

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu,

Demonstration for freeing Shalit
Demonstration for freeing Shalit
Israel News Photo: Flash 90

U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell has advised Israel to relax restrictions at the Gaza crossings without demanding that Hamas free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, according to foreign and Israeli media. An American Embassy spokesman told Israel National News, “Mitchell will have to speak for himself. These are very sensitive issues.”

Shalit was kidnapped 1,089 days ago in a raid near the Kerem Shalom crossing by terrorists from Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees and the Army of Islam, linked with Al Qaeda. Two soldiers were killed and a fourth was severely wounded in the terrorist attack, which has left Shalit without communication with the outside world. Next week will mark three years since the kidnapping.

Noam Shalit, father of the soldier, has urged the Netanyahu government to condition the re-opening of Gaza crossings with freedom for his son, a policy held by the previous Olmert government as well. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who paid an unofficial visit to Gaza Wednesday, said he believes Shalit is alive and well but added he has no proof or signs of life.

Carter was to deliver a letter from Shalit’s parents to their son, but Hamas claimed the message was verbal and not written. “It also included Carter's personal wishes and Shalit's family's hopes of ending this case and releasing the soldier," Yousef Rika, political advisor to de factor Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, told the Chinese news agency Xinhua.

Hamas has refused to honor the Geneva Convention law that calls for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to be allowed to visit kidnap victims and prisoners of war. The Red Cross issued a formal statement Thursday calling on Hamas to allow visits to the soldier.

Israel closed the Gaza crossings to commercial traffic after Hamas staged a military coup and ousted the Fatah faction from power in the Gaza region two years ago. The crossings have remained open for humanitarian aid, but the U.S. wants restrictions eased despite repeated attempts by terrorists to strike and kidnap other soldiers.

Last week, the IDF foiled a major attack between Kerem Shalom and the Nahal Oz fuel depot when terrorists on horseback, loaded with suicide belts, tried to cross the fence separating Gaza from the western Negev.

The U.S. reportedly has offered to place international monitors under the supervision of the United Nations to make sure building materials and metal transported into Gaza will be used for civilian purposes and not for building smuggling tunnels and manufacturing rockets.

The Olmert administration in January agreed to end the Operation Cast Lead counterterrorist campaign in Gaza on the strength of promises by the U.S. and other Western powers to install technology and place monitors to prevent the smuggling of weapons from Egypt to Gaza. The mechanisms were never installed, although Israel has noted that Egypt has improved its efforts to stop smuggling.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, following the June 25, 2006 terrorist attack at the Gaza crossing, vowed he would not negotiate or release terrorists for Shalit’s freedom.