The saga of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit continues, as Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas finally called for an unconditional release of the 24-year-old hostage.
Abbas had previously given conflicting statements about whether Shalit, captured by Hamas in 2006, should be released unconditionally. Hamas is demanding the release of 1,000 terrorists in exchange for Shalit’s freedom, and Abbas – who is theoretically unaffiliated with Hamas – had caved to those demands.
During a visit to Germany yesterday, however, Abbas appeared to shrug off his Hamas yoke while participating in a press at a conference with German President Christian Wulff. There, Abbas said he wanted Hamas “to release their prisoner and we also call on Israel to release Palestinian prisoners,” without insisting that one move was dependent upon the other. Germany has been outspoken in its support for Israel on the Shalit issue.
Abbas’ support doesn’t mean Shalit is going to be released anytime soon. Abbas is the head of the Palestinian Authority, which has frequently found itself at odds with Hamas on terrorism and other issues. It is unlikely that Abbas’ statements will have an effect on Shalit’s Hamas captors.
Israel’s mandatory military service means that nearly all Israelis can identify with a captured soldier, and rough treatment by Hamas has intensified the attention showered on the issue by national and international critics. A group of pro-Israeli students and activists recently rallied in Washington, D.C. to mark the 1,600th day of Shalit’s imprisonment.