Prayer rally marks Shalit birthday


JERUSALEM (JTA) — A prayer rally was held at the Western Wall to mark kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit’s fourth birthday in captivity.

"We are not optimistic," Shalit’s father, Noam, told the hundreds of supporters who gathered Wednesday night.

Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau recited a prayer for Shalit’s well-being and speedy release. He was joined at the rally by several of Israel’s most influential rabbis. 

Earlier Wednesday, a Hamas leader said his group is not any closer to releasing Shalit, despite reports to the contrary.

Abu Mujahid, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, the group responsible for Shalit’s capture, told the Ma’an Palestinian news agency that its demands for the release of 1,400 Palestinians in Israeli jails has not changed.

The statement comes following a report in the London-based Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat, widely reported in the Israeli media, that some progress had been made on a prisoner exchange after no movement in several months. The report cited Egyptian sources.

The report claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed to resume negotiations from where they left off, and that Hamas had indicated a willingness to compromise on sending some released prisoners to Gaza rather than to their homes in the West Bank.

Amnesty International on Wednesday issued a statement calling on Hamas to allow the Red Cross and the Shalit family to visit the soldier.

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