Friends and family of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit marked the young captive's 23rd birthday on Wednesday at a prayer rally at the Kotel (Western Wall) organized by supporters. Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas-backed terrorists in 2006, at age 19, in an attack on an IDF patrol outside Gaza in which two other soldiers were killed.
Shalit's father Noam told reporters at the rally that the family is “not optimistic.”
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau wrote a special prayer for Gilad's release for the occasion. The prayer was distributed nationwide by the Struggle for Shalit organization.
Rabbi Lau expressed sympathy and support for the Shalit family. “For three years, not only has he been held in darkness, but so has the entire family: Noam, Aviva, Tzvi and everyone,” he said.
Shalit's friends and other supporters expressed disappointment at marking Shalit's birthday yet again while Shalit remains in captivity. Supporters were not optimistic regarding recent rumors of progress in negotiations for Shalit's release. “We have been disappointed over and over again,” the head of the Action Headquarters for Shalit, Shimon Liebman, told Ynet.
The Israeli branch of Amnesty International marked the event by calling on Hamas to allow international humanitarian workers and members of the Shalit family to visit the captive. Hamas has not allowed any contact with the soldier, despite international laws requiring that captors allow humanitarian visits.
There have been multiple rumors of a breakthrough in talks over Shalit's fate in Arab media in recent days. However, both Israeli officials and senior members of Hamas have rejected the reports, and say there has been no significant change. Such rumors have surfaced dozens of times since Shalit was abducted.
Israel and Hamas are negotiating Shalit's release with help from Egyptian mediators. Talks have broken down several times over Hamas' demand that Israel release over 1,000 terrorist prisoners in exchange for Shalit, many of them convicted killers. Israel refuses to consider release for many of those convicted of murder, while Hamas refuses to remove even a single name from its list.