5 years on: The story of Gilad Shalit | world | Hindustan Times
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5 years on: The story of Gilad Shalit

world Updated: Jun 25, 2011 16:24 IST

Israel on Saturday marked five years since the capture of soldier Gilad Shalit, amid growing international calls for the Islamist Hamas movement to release him or at least provide proof of life.

At noon (0900 GMT), Shalit's family and supporters were to gather at the site in southern Israel near the Gaza border where he was captured in a deadly cross border raid on June 25, 2006 by militants from three Gaza based groups, one of them Hamas.

Later, 24 Israeli celebrities were take turns to enter a tiny dark cell for an hour for a symbolic protest calling for a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas that would secure Shalit's freedom.

"The message is: Yes to a deal, no to indifference. Gilad has to be returned home," said a statement from the organisers of the event called the Gilad Shalit project, which was to be filmed live and broadcast on Facebook.

The anniversary has been marked by growing international calls on Hamas to free Shalit after five years in captivity. "During this time, Hamas has held him hostage without access by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in violation of the standards of basic decency and international humanitarian demands," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.

"The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms his continued detention, and joins other governments and international organisations around the world in calling on Hamas to release him immediately," Carney added.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon called for Shalit's "immediate release," and asked Hamas "to protect his life, treat him humanely, prove that he is alive and allow the Shalit family to have contact with their son."

In Paris, the authorities planned to install a portrait of Shalit in front of city hall to mark the fifth anniversary of his capture. Shalit also holds French nationality.

On Friday, Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights groups issued a joint statement calling on Gaza militants to end the "inhumane" treatment of Shalit.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that in response to Hamas's continuing refusal to allow ICRC visits to Shalit, he had instructed the Israel Prisons Service to curtail privileges granted to Palestinian prisoners held for security offences. Shalit was 19 when he was captured.

The last proof he was still alive came in October 2009 when Hamas -- in exchange for the release of 20 Palestinian prisoners -- released a video of Shalit calling on Netanyahu to do everything in his power to free him.