Middle East

Shalit protest mars Israel's Independence Day event

Yoel Shalit being removed from the stage
Yoel Shalit wants politicians to remember his brother who has been held in Gaza for five years

Israel's main Independence Day celebration was interrupted by a protest by the brother of the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.

The televised service on Monday night traditionally involves the lighting of a dozen torches on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

Yoel Shalit and his girlfriend carried signs calling for Gilad Shalit to be remembered.

Police moved them on after they appeared in front of top politicians.

Gilad Shalit was captured by militants from Gaza in a cross-border raid near Israel's Kerem Shalom crossing in June 2006.

He has since been held at an unknown location by the Palestinian militant group Hamas that governs the Gaza Strip.

His family and other supporters have worked hard to keep his case in the public eye, even setting up a large demonstration tent close to the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem.

The Israeli soldier, who had the rank of corporal when he was seized, has since been promoted to staff sergeant. He is now 24.

Stalled talks

In a television interview on Monday, the Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, said that negotiations to free Gilad Shalit, in exchange for the release of about 1,400 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, had stalled.

He blamed the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Meshaal
Israel is opposed to a reconciliation pact signed by rival Palestinian factions

Meanwhile, at an official Memorial Day ceremony, Mr Netanyahu stressed his government's commitment to bringing the soldier home.

Reports said he also referred to Hamas after its recent signing of a reconciliation deal with the rival Fatah faction headed by the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, saying, "we will not be tempted to believe that the leopard has changed its spots."

Israel views Hamas as a terrorist organisation. It opposed the pact that should lead to the setting up of an interim Palestinian unity government tasked with preparing for new elections.

Different narratives

Memorial ceremonies, to recall Israel's wartime losses, take place at cemeteries, including Mount Herzl, immediately before Independence Day each year.

The Jewish state was founded on 14 May 1948, and anniversaries are calculated in accordance with the Hebrew calendar.

On 15 May, Palestinians mark the creation of Israel with a day of mourning called al-Naqba, Arabic for "catastrophe".

They remember the hundreds of thousands of refugees, and the land and property that was lost.

In a routine step, the Israeli authorities prevent most Palestinians from entering Israel from the occupied West Bank during Independence Day celebrations. They say this is a necessary security precaution.