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Father of captured Israeli soldier makes plea to Palestinians

By Michael Schwartz, CNN
Noam and Aviva Shalit hold a press conference on Tuesday to call for the release of their son Gilad.
Noam and Aviva Shalit hold a press conference on Tuesday to call for the release of their son Gilad.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gilad Shalit's father urges Palestinians in Gaza to press for his son's release
  • Noam Shalit supports a prisoner swap as the way to release his son
  • He says it should take place during the upcoming month of Ramadan
  • Gilad Shalit has been held captive since June 2006

Jerusalem (CNN) -- The father of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit called on Palestinians in Gaza on Tuesday to release his son, four years after he was taken.

At a news conference at a hotel in East Jerusalem -- an unusual setting for Israelis, as the area is mostly Arab -- Noam Shalit appealed directly to Palestinians in Gaza to put pressure on their Hamas leadership for a prisoner swap during the upcoming holy month of Ramadan.

Shalit read out a message in Hebrew that was translated into Arabic, in which he said, "The month of Ramadan is a based on the platform of the belief that good deeds are twice rewarded and sins are forgiven. Because we are destined to be neighbors, let us open a new page in our lives in the letters of peace and tranquility."

Shalit has been holding a vigil outside the home of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since early July, when he led a march to his doorstep to support a prisoner exchange as a way to release his son.

Tuesday, Shalit repeated his stance that the Israeli government should release 1,000 prisoners, including 450 whose release Hamas has demanded in exchange for his son.

This Ramadan is different than the previous four, Shalit, said, because there is now a deal that was put on the table at the beginning of the year by a German mediator.

"If the two sides of the conflict show some flexibility, it will be possible to make an agreement," Shalit said.

Such an agreement, Shalit said, would benefit thousands of Palestinian families who would have their fathers and sons back to celebrate the festival of Ramadan.

"I would welcome any release of Palestinian prisoners, but I would welcome the release of one Israeli prisoner," said the emotional Shalit, raising a solitary finger.

Shalit has been held captive since June 25, 2006, when Palestinian militants from Gaza captured him. The militants had tunneled into Israel and attacked an Israeli army outpost near the Gaza-Israel-Egypt border, killing two soldiers in the assault.

Israel immediately launched a military incursion into Gaza to rescue Shalit, then 19, but failed to free him.

Since being imprisoned by Hamas, Shalit has not been allowed any contact with the outside world, nor any visits by the Red Cross. Details of his incarceration and physical condition remain unknown.

In October 2009, Hamas released a tape of Shalit as a proof of life, in which he urged the Israeli government to do more for his safe release.