PARIS (AP) – An Israeli-French soldier who was held hostage for five years by Palestinian militants met Wednesday with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Gilad Schalit has maintained a low profile since his release from captivity in Gaza in October in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.
But he made an unusual public appearance Wednesday, meeting with Sarkozy in his presidential palace in Paris. Schalit did not speak to reporters afterward, but left the palace with a smile, bundled against a winter cold snap. His parents were also at the meeting.
“We are very moved,” his father, Noam Schalit, said afterward. He thanked Sarkozy for his commitment to obtaining the soldier’s release.
Sarkozy praised Gilad Schalit for his “exemplary courage” and his parents for “their determination and their dignity in the face of the ordeal and the anguish,” according to a statement from the president’s office.
At an annual dinner later held by the French Jewish community, Sarkozy castigated Schalit’s captors.
“Shame … on those who did that,” he said, adding that “no idea, no ideology, no situation can justify what was done to Gilad Schalit.”
Hamas-allied militants captured Schalit in a 2006 cross-border raid, and his plight captured Israel’s attention for years.
Sarkozy praised Israel for its own dogged efforts to return one of its sons, calling it a mark of Israel’s democracy “because in a democracy we attach importance to one life” and “every family in Israel knows he can have a Gilad Schalit.”
He then advised Israel to file a complaint for the recent death of a young girl hit by a car driven by two French tourists who fled to France and cannot be extradited. The family of Lee Zeitouni, or the state, can file the complaint and the two French men could be tried in a French court.
“I call for justice,” Sarkozy said.
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