French legal complaint over Hamas kidnapping
PARIS (AP) — An Israeli family frustrated by their government's failure to free their son from Hamas captors filed a legal complaint in France on Monday that they hope will lead to arrest warrants for members of the Palestinian militant group.
Noam Schalit wants an investigation into who captured his son, Sgt. Gilad Schalit, in 2006 and who is holding him now.
He filed a legal complaint in Paris for kidnapping and false imprisonment. Gilad 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 Schalit's father says he is after Hamas.
"We hope for example that the judge will take steps against the Hamas leaders, for example, international arrest warrants against the Hamas leaders," Noam Schalit told The Associated Press in Paris.
The complaint was filed with an investigating judge, who under French law then decides whether to open an inquiry or investigation.
"Our first goal is to see our son back home after five long years. Five long years which didn't bring any progress yet and we expect that this step will accelerate the negotiations to bring back our Gilad and will urge the Hamas leaders to release him in exchange for Palestinian prisoners," Schalit said.
Hamas is demanding the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including many convicted of murdering Israeli civilians, in exchange for Schalit's freedom. Hamas has banned the Red Cross from seeing Schalit and little is known about his condition.
"We advise the Schalit family to file a lawsuit against the occupation government, which has obstructed all attempts to reach prisoner swap agreement," Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas' military wing, told The Associated Press.
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" than diplomatic pressure, said his French lawyer, Pierre-Francois Veil.
Another French lawyer in the case said French judges might have more success than Israeli counterparts because of the political tensions in the Middle East.
"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," Noam Schalit said on Israeli radio Monday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office declined comment on the lawsuit, but the prime minister has repeatedly said he is working tirelessly to bring the soldier home.
At his weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu again urged Hamas to free Schalit and urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is now in reconciliation talks with Hamas, to use his sway over the militant group to release the soldier.
The case of Schalit has become a nationwide cause in Israel, where military service is mandatory for Jews and there is a widespread feeling that this could happen to virtually any family. The Schalits and their supporters have kept a protest tent outside Netanyahu's official residence, and families and schools make pilgrimages to the site virtually every day to support the family.
Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza, Amy Teibel in Jerusalem and Jeffrey Schaeffer in Paris contributed to this report.