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Israel accepts terms of German deal for Shalit

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(JTA) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had accepted a German-mediated deal for the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and was awaiting Hamas’ response.

Netanyahu did not specify the terms of the proposal. Saturday marked the fifth anniversary of Shalit’s capture in a cross-border raid near Gaza.

"This proposal was harsh; it was not simple for the State of Israel," Netanyahu said Sunday in a statement released after the weekly Cabinet meeting. "However, we agreed to accept it in the belief that it was balanced between our desire to secure Gilad’s release and to prevent possible harm to the lives and security of the Israeli people. As of now, we have yet to receive Hamas’s official answer to the German mediator’s proposal.

The statement said that "The State of Israel is ready to go far, more than any other country, in order to secure Gilad’s release, but it is my responsibility, and the responsibility of those who are sitting here, to see to the security and lives of the Israeli people."

Noam Shalit at a news conference Sunday in Jerusalem outside the prime minister’s official residence announced a new campaign to garner more tangible public support for striking a deal to bring home his son.

"We say to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, you have no mandate to sentence Gilad to death," the elder Shalit said.

Shalit family members chained themselves together outside the residence in Jerusalem on Saturday night as hundreds of supoprters gathered in support. Others protested outside Netanyahu’s home in Caesarea.

Meanwhile, dozens of Israeli celebrities and politicians marked 24 hours beginning Saturday night at Herzliya Studios, Israel’s largest TV facility, with each spending an hour in “solitary confinement” in solidarity with the captured soldier.

A rally was planned for Rome, where the mayor of Italy’s capital city was to help release 1,826 yellow balloons, corresponding to the number of days Shalit has been in captivity.

On Friday, the Obama administration called for Gilad Shalit’s immediate release.

"Nearly five years have now passed since Hamas terrorists crossed into Israel and abducted Gilad Shalit," it said. "During this time, Hamas has held him hostage without access by the International Committee of the Red Cross, in violation of the standards of basic decency and international humanitarian demands. As the anniversary of his capture approaches, the United States condemns in the strongest possible terms his continued detention, and joins other governments and international organizations around the world in calling on Hamas to release him immediately."

France’s foreign minister, Alain Juppe, said France "has not forgotten Gilad Shalit" and noted that he is the French hostage held the longest in captivity. Shalit, 24, is a citizen of both France and Israel.

"On the eve of the sad anniversary of the fifth year of Gilad Schalit’s captivity, I want to reiterate that the situation of our compatriot, held in defiance of the most basic principles of international humanitarian law, is unacceptable," Juppe said in the statement, which was posted on the website of the French Embassy in Israel.

According to the website meetgilad.com, Shalit is an honorary citizen of Paris, Rome, New Orleans and Miami. He was just named an honorary citizen of Baltimore.

Twelve Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights organizations issued a joint statement Friday calling on Hamas to end its "illegal" and "inhumane" treatment of Shalit, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Some of those groups had never before spoken out on his behalf, according to a report by the International Middle East Media Center, which called the joint statement "unprecedented."

Amnesty International said in a news release that it is circulating a petition among its worldwide membership calling upon Hamas to ease the suffering of Shalit and his family, and will present the petition to Hamas’s prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has issued a statement demanding that Hamas issue proof immediately that Shalit is still alive, saying the lack of information about the Israeli soldier was “unacceptable.”

Shalit was captured on June 25, 2006, taken across the border from Israel into Gaza, and has been held since then by Hamas.

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