Allow Israeli soldier to contact family, HRW asks Hamas

JERUSALEM - International rights group, the Human Rights Watch (HRW), Thursday called on the Hamas movement to allow captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit contact with his family.

Hamas, which rules Gaza and led a June 2006 cross-border raid from the strip in which the Israeli soldier was captured, “should immediately allow Sgt. Gilad Shalit… to communicate with his family and to receive visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC),” said the rights group on the third anniversary of the soldier’s capture.

The laws of war oblige Hamas to allow Shalit to correspond with his family, but during his three years of captivity, it has passed on only three letters of his and a voice recording, it said. Neither Shalit’s family nor the ICRC have been permitted to visit him.

“Hamas authorities have no excuse for cutting off Shalit from his family and the outside world for three years,” said the group’s Middle East and North Africa director, Sarah Leah Whitson.

The group called prolonged incommunicado detention “cruel” and “inhuman”.

It noted the UN Human Rights Commission had ruled in 2003 it could be considered “degrading treatment or even torture”.

It pointed out that Israel, too, was depriving some Palestinian prisoners of family visits, although it was not keeping them incommunicado.

In June 2007, Israel suspended an ICRC programme allowing bi-monthly family visits for 900 Palestinian prisoners from Gaza. The ICRC reported the case of one woman, Tahani Herig, who had only been allowed to visit her husband jailed in Israel three times between 2001 and 2007. The families are allowed to exchange letters.

Whitson condemned the arrest by Israel of dozens of Hamas politicians in the occupied West Bank, shortly after and in response to Shalit’s capture, as well as the Israeli blockade on Gaza, calling this collective punishment.

Israel imposed the blockade in response to rocket attacks, but also as a means to exert pressure on Hamas in the indirect, Egyptian-mediated negotiations on a prisoners exchange.

Hamas is demanding the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, among them militants, in exchange for Shalit.


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