Wulff visit to Shalit family seen as signal to Red Cross


BERLIN (JTA) — German President Christian Wulff’s unprecedented visit to the family of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit sends an important signal to the International Red Cross, Jewish activists in Germany said.

Peter Diedrich, head of the German branch of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, said he hoped Wulff’s visit Monday in Jerusalem would boost his group’s efforts to press for the soldier’s release. The organization has a rally calling for Shalit’s release from captivity in Gaza planned for Dec. 10 outside the offices of the German Red Cross.

The rally, to mark the 62nd anniversary of the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is part of an international effort coordinated by the Israel-based parent association of Jewish lawyers and jurists to draw attention to the case of Shalit, who was captured by Hamas in a cross-border raid from Gaza in June 2006.

Shalit has not been permitted to receive any Red Cross visits in contravention of the international body’s mandate to "visit prisoners of war and civilian internees to verify whether they are being treated according to relevant international standards."

During his meeting with the soldier’s family, Wulff pressed for a Red Cross visit to the soldier and for his release. The German president’s visit included meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Wulff is the first head of a state to visit the family and address the issue of the Red Cross, Diedrich told JTA in a telephone interview from his Berlin office. The presidential visit underscored that this "is just a human rights issue, and everyone has not only the right but also the duty to go for it."

The Dec. 10 rally in Berlin is supported by several Jewish organizations in Germany.

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