Israel marks fourth anniversary of Gilad Shalit capture

image caption, The bikers rode in a convoy to the various foreign embassies

Supporters of an Israeli soldier seized by Palestinian militants have marked the fourth anniversary of his capture with a series of rallies.

Gilad Shalit, 23, has been held in Gaza by Hamas militants who are demanding the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for his freedom.

Activists protested outside the Israeli PM's residence in Jerusalem and bikers staged a protest ride in Tel Aviv.

Sgt Shalit's parents are to begin an 11-day cross-country march on Sunday.

Frustrated with failed attempts to free their son, Noam and Aviva Shalit plan to walk from their home in northern Israel to the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem - a distance of about 200km (120 miles).

The say they will remain camped there until they see their son again.

The campaign has widespread support among Israel's public and in the country's media.

Hopes renewed

In Tel Aviv on Friday, some 100 bikers rode in a convoy to the various foreign embassies, meeting with the ambassadors of countries including the UK and France.

Balloons were to be released across Israel for the anniversary, a candle-lighting ceremony was planned, and a major newspaper distributed yellow ribbons to its readers.

Demonstrations of support for Sgt Shalit also have been held in cities across the world, including New York, Rome and Paris.

Sgt Shalit was captured in a raid into Israel by militants in 2006 exactly four years ago.

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.

Also on Friday, the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Hamas to end what it called the "cruel and inhuman" treatment of Gilad Shalit.

"Hamas authorities are violating the laws of war by refusing to allow Sgt Shalit to correspond with his family," HRW said in a statement, adding that the young soldier's treatment "may amount to torture".

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, the BBC's Wyre Davies reports from Jerusalem.

Now that Israel has eased that embargo, it hopes and expects that Sgt Shalit will be released, our correspondent adds.