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Shalit campaign steps up a gear

Pro-Shalit demonstration in Tel Aviv, 14/01/09
Prime Minister Olmert says protests encourage Hamas to harden position

The parents of captured soldier Gilad Shalit have spent a first full night in a tent outside the Israeli PM's house to raise pressure on his government.

The are escalating the campaign after Ehud Olmert said demonstrations calling for Sgt Shalit's release by Palestinian militants in Gaza were unhelpful.

Noam and Aviva Shalit are urging the outgoing PM to agree a prisoner swap.

The Shalits fear a harder line cabinet led by PM-designate Benjamin Netanyahu might be less likely to do a deal.

They couple began their protest in the early hours of Sunday.

"We will stay as long as Gilad, who has been held for nearly 1,000 days, is not freed," Noam Shalit told Israeli army radio.

Gilad Shalit was seized in June 2006 by Palestinian militants, including members of the Hamas group which runs Gaza, in an raid into Israel that also left two Israeli soldiers dead.

Egypt has been brokering talks to secure his release. Hamas are demanding the release of more than 400 of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

In February, the Israeli security cabinet stipulated the soldier must be released before Israel eased its comprehensive blockade of Gaza.

Video report

The stepped-up protest comes amid reports that Hamas political leaders in Damascus are in possession of a videotape showing Sgt Shalit in captivity, as well as a letter from him.

We will sit outside Olmert's house so that he sees us when he wakes up in the morning
Noam Shalit

A Kuwaiti newspaper reported that Moussa Abu Marzouk was handed the items by Hamas military wing chief Ahmed Jabari during a secret visit he made to Gaza late in February.

The video purportedly shows the 21-year-old to be in good health.

There has been no confirmation of the report, which says the video will be used by Hamas as a bargaining chip in negotiations.

Last week, the Israeli outgoing prime minister criticised public demonstrations calling for Gilad Shalit's release, claiming they encouraged Hamas to harden its position.

Campaigners have accused the government of dragging its feet in the negotiations.

"We will sit outside Olmert's house so that he sees us when he wakes up in the morning," Noam Shalit said on arriving at the tent on Sunday.

Nothing has been heard from the Israeli conscript since June 2008, when a letter in his handwriting was delivered to the Carter Centre in Ramallah in the West Bank.



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