JERUSALEM, (AFP) – The European Union’s top diplomat Catherine Ashton met on Monday with the parents of a captive Israeli soldier, telling them she would continue to demand the release of their son.
Ashton’s meeting came a day after she visited the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, where Gilad Shalit has been held by Palestinian militants since his capture in 2006 in a deadly cross-border raid.
“The message that I wanted to give them is very clear. In everything that we do, in all the statements that I have made, in all of my meetings, the issue of Gilad Shalit’s release is part of what we are demanding,” Ashton said in a statement after the meeting.
During her visit to the Palestinian coastal strip she did not meet with Hamas officials as the group is branded a terrorist organisation by the West, including the EU.
Shalit also holds French citizenship.
Noam Shalit, the soldier’s father, told reporters after the meeting he had asked Ashton that the EU “should demand progress in negotiations for Gilad’s release before requesting humanitarian gestures in Gaza.”
Ashton has repeatedly called for the further easing of Israel’s four-year blockade of the Gaza Strip and said she believed that would also help hasten Shalit’s release.
“What we are doing in trying to support ordinary people in Gaza is in essence to try and help that process,” she said.
The Islamist movement Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, wants hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit, including scores of top militants responsible for deadly attacks.
The talks collapsed late last year.