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ISRAEL: 1,000 days of captivity for Shalit

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Hundreds of people came to Jerusalem on Saturday evening to mark the 1,000th day since Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped. In recent weeks, his family had joined the protest tent already manned for months by volunteers and sat up the block from the residence of the prime minister, a constant reminder to Ehud Olmert of his unfinished business as he finishes his term.

Olmert’s final push to secure a deal with Hamas for Shalit’s freedom in return for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners fell through, amid a bitter public debate in Israel over the price of such an exchange. As mediators and negotiators shuttled back and forth between Cairo, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in an attempt to reach agreement in the last few days of the incumbent government, time -- often a liquid concept in the region -- was pressing.

The new government around the corner will be less accommodating, warned those supporting an exchange.

Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, left the protest tent Saturday night without a deal and without his son, but with the support of many Israelis who turned out to see him off to the family’s home in Mitzpe Hila. ‘We will keep going until you come home,’ he said.

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Meanwhile, Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu has been granted an extension of two weeks for the formation of his new government, thereby extending the window of opportunity for reaching a deal that will bring home Shalit.

‘You have two more weeks to act,’ Noam addressed Olmert, ‘with determination and creativity and to employ everything at Israel’s disposal to save Gilad before it is too late.’

Lines between public and private are blurred in the awareness campaign for a soldier’s release in a country where service is mandatory for most.

Shalit is a household name. Millions know his family by name. They recognize his face, his voice and even his handwriting (right).

***

The same day in Tel Aviv, Yaron appeared surprised -- and appreciative -- that someone would recognize the name on the back of his T-shirt: Hanan Barak, an officer killed with another soldier in the attack during which Shalit was abducted.

The black T-shirt commemorating a trek down the Golan Heights in memory of his army friend is a simple tribute and it’s by coincidence that Yaron wore it to the beach on the widely marked ‘anniversary.’

He remembers all the time. Still, he shivered briefly. ‘One thousand days,’ he said behind his shades.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem

‘Help,’ a new campaign launched by an advertising company, forms the Hebrew word for ‘help’ in Shalit’s handwriting, complete with a downloadable ‘Shalit’ font created from his letter.

Bottom: Yaron remembers his friend this day and others. Credit: Batsheva Sobelman.


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