x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Family of Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in 2006 go to court in Paris

Father of Sergeant Gilad Schalit files lawsuit in Paris in hope that this will lead to arrest warrants for members of the Palestinian militant group who kidnapped his son.

The French foreign minister Alain Juppé stands next to Noam Shalit, father of the abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, during his visit to the family's protest tent, outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residency in Jerusalem last week. Sergeant Shalit. who also holds French nationality, was captured 1803 days ago by Hamas-allied militants in the Gaza Strip.
The French foreign minister Alain Juppé stands next to Noam Shalit, father of the abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, during his visit to the family's protest tent, outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residency in Jerusalem last week. Sergeant Shalit. who also holds French nationality, was captured 1803 days ago by Hamas-allied militants in the Gaza Strip.

PARIS // An Israeli family frustrated by their government's failure to free their son from Hamas captors filed a legal complaint in France yesterday.

Noam Schalit wants an investigation into who captured his son, Sergeant Gilad Schalit, in 2006 and who is holding him now.

He filed the lawsuit in Paris and hopes this action will lead to arrest warrants for members of the Palestinian militant group who kidnapped his son.

Sergeant Schalit, 24, holds joint Israeli and French citizenship, which is why the suit was filed in France.

The complaint does not name anyone specifically, leaving it up to an eventual investigation to determine who might have been involved. But Sergeant Schalit's father says he is after Hamas.

"We hope the judge will open an investigation and will take any action at his disposal, including an arrest warrant" for those suspected in the kidnapping, he told reporters at the main Paris courthouse yesterday.

The complaint was filed with an investigating judge, who under French law then decides whether to open an inquiry or investigation.

"Our job is to bring him home after so many years," Mr Schalit said.

Hamas is demanding the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including many convicted of murdering Israeli civilians, in exchange for Sergeant Schalit's freedom.

Hamas has banned the Red Cross from seeing him and little is known about his condition.

Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas's military wing, said: "We advise the Schalit family to file a lawsuit against the occupation government, which has obstructed all attempts to reach prisoner swap agreement."

Mr Schalit suggested that Israel's government has not done enough to pressure Hamas to release his son. France's government has repeatedly called for his release since militants linked to Gaza's ruling Hamas group seized him in a cross-border raid.

"When an investigating judge issues an international arrest warrant, that has a totally different impact," said his French lawyer, Pierre-Francois Veil.

Another French lawyer on the case said French judges might have more success than Israeli counterparts.

"The bottom line is that Gilad hasn't returned after five years. Unfortunately, Israel doesn't know how to pressure Hamas and we're using the little that we have at our disposal, in places outside Israel as well, to try to use some kind of leverage against Hamas and its leaders," Sgt Gilad's father said on Israeli radio yesterday.

The office of Benjamin Netanyahu declined to comment on the lawsuit, but the prime minister has repeatedly said that he is working tirelessly to bring the soldier home.

At his weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Mr Netanyahu again urged Hamas to free the soldier and urged Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who is now in reconciliation talks with Hamas, to use his sway to get him released.

The case of Sergeant Schalit has become a nationwide cause in Israel, where military service is mandatory for Jews.

There is a widespread feeling that this could happen to virtually any family.

The Schalits and their supporters have kept a protest tent outside Mr Netanyahu's official residence, and families and schools make pilgrimages to the site virtually every day to support the family.