Sunday, 19 November 2006

United in grief, Mideast kin say end 'madness'

Sunday November 19, 2006


JERUSALEM - The father of an Israeli soldier held hostage by Hamas
united with Palestinian families devastated by an Israeli military
attack in Gaza this month to issue a plea to stop what they called
"the madness" of mutual violence.

Noam Shalit, the father of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the soldier abducted
nearly five months ago, traveled to the Sourasky Medical Center in Tel
Aviv last week to meet the bereaved Palestinians and visit their
injured relatives being treated in Israel.

About 20 people were killed when Israeli artillery shells aimed at
rocket launch sites struck several Beit Hanoun homes, almost all of
them belonging to one family. Officials later acknowledged that a
malfunction caused the shells to veer off target.

"I know this will not bring about Gilad's release, that's not why I
went," Shalit told the Daily News. "I am not disconnected from what is
happening in Gaza, and I felt I had to visit as an act of
identification and empathy with the innocent Palestinian victims of
Israel's military actions in Beit Hanoun."

Three of the 40 wounded were transferred to the Tel Aviv hospital
after Israel offered medical assistance to the victims.

Usama Ahmed al-Athamna, who lost many family members in the attack,
including his wife and mother, said he appreciated the gesture and,
despite his grief, was praying for the soldier.

"I truly thank Gilad's father for the visit, and I pray that his son
is returned home safe and sound and that it will bring an end to the
tragedy we had at home," al-Athamna said.

Rasan Gasan, whose brother Basem died of his wounds Friday after being
injured in Beit Hanoun, said: "I want to thank Gilad's father for
coming to visit us. It breaks our hearts, more than they are already
broken, that this man's heart breaks for us.

"I hope his son is brought home soon, and I ask both governments:
Enough, stop. They are continuing negotiations through bloodshed when
it's better to sit at a table of peace and speak eye to eye. We can
reach an agreement through peace, not bloodshed," Gasan said.

Shalit also urged the Israeli and Palestinian governments to "end the
violence which brings more violence and hatred in a perpetual cycle
that must be broken. ... We are all victims of the same madness.

"From firing rockets toward populated centers to two terribly
erroneous shells, the common denominator is that the civilian
population pays the price," he added.

Shalit said he was sure the "vast majority" of Israelis and
Palestinians wanted an end to the fighting.

He said he had issued personal appeals to the Hamas leadership in
Syria to release his son but never got a reply. "In Damascus, the
Hamas leaders live well and apparently don't want to take any notice
of the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza," he

Shalit was also critical of his own leaders.

"Judging from the results after five months, it's clear that from my
point of view the efforts of the Israeli government so far have been a
failure," he said.

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