Middle East

Captive Israeli soldier Shalit's parents begin march

Thousands of people have joined the parents of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit on a long march from northern Israel to mark four years since his capture.

He was seized by Palestinian militants in cross-border clashes in June 2006.

He has been held in Gaza by Hamas militants who are demanding the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for his freedom.

Noam and Aviva Shalit are walking to the Jerusalem home of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Frustrated with failed attempts to free their son, they say they will remain camped outside Mr Netanyahu's residence until he is released.

Thousands of supporters as well as relatives have joined the Shalits on their march after they set off from their home in Mitzpe Hila near Israel's northern border with Lebanon.

On Friday, activists protested outside Mr Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem and bikers staged a protest ride in Tel Aviv on the day Sgt Shalit was captured four years ago.

Release hopes

Sgt Shalit, now 23, was captured in a raid into Israel by militants on 25 June 2006.

He is being held in Gaza, and has had little contact since then with the outside world.

Apart from one audio recording and a video tape, which appeared to show him in relatively good health, there has been little contact with the soldier.

Militants from Hamas, the Palestinian organisation which controls Gaza, have also refused the International Red Cross access to Gilad Shalit - a stance that has been widely criticised in Israel and beyond.

Talks to free the soldier in return for a number of Palestinian prisoners broke down last year.

One of the main reasons for Israel's long blockade of Gaza was the continued detention of Sgt Shalit, said the BBC's Wyre Davies in Jerusalem.

Now that Israel has eased - if not completely lifted - that embargo, it hopes and expects that Sgt Shalit will be released, our correspondent says.

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