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Rights group urges Hamas to allow access to Israeli soldier

Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Friday urged [press release] Hamas [JURIST news archive] authorities to allow captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit [advocacy website, in Hebrew; BBC backgrounder] to communicate with his family and receive visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) [official website]. Shalit was captured in 2006 by Palestinian militants during a raid on an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) [official website] post near the Kerem Shalom crossing in Israel. HRW claims that Hamas is violating the laws of war by blocking all access to Shalit. The advocacy group also stated that Hamas' actions are deemed cruel and inhuman and may amount to torture. HRW's statement echoed concerns included in a statement released earlier this month by ICRC [JURIST report] calling Shalit's "incommunicado detention" a violation of international humanitarian law. Since his incarceration more than four years ago, Hamas has passed on only three letters from him, a voice recording and a short video. Hamas officials hold that allowing outside access to Shalit would alert the Israeli government to his location, which would lead to armed attacks if Shalit's release could not be negotiated. Hamas has refused to release Shalit until Israel releases hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, many of whom were arrested in retaliation of Shalit's prolonged captivity.

In an attempt to pressure Hamas into releasing Shalit, the Israeli Cabinet voted last year to deny Hamas prisoners privileges not required by law, such as education, entertainment and some visitation. The policy places strict limits on family visits and money transfers, as well as removes opportunities for prisoners to take high school and university classes. The new rules were enacted after a failed negotiation over Shalit's release, which led to the seizure of several Hamas officials by Israel forces [JURIST report], including Palestinian Cabinet ministers and lawmakers. Several third-party nations, especially Egypt have attempted to mediate [JURIST report] negotiations between the neighboring nations, but none has come to fruition. In September, the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict [official website] also chided Hamas [JURIST report] for Shalit's incommunicado detention in a controversial report covering last year's Operation Cast Lead [GlobalSecurity backgrounder] in the Gaza Strip. The report stated that the mistreatment of Shalit was a potential war crime and called for Hamas officials to allow access to the incarcerated soldier.

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