PARIS (JTA) — Former captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and his parents met with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the presidential palace in Paris.
“We are very happy to be here at the Elysee Palace,” said Noam Shalit, speaking to journalists Wednesday morning. “We are very touched.”
Hours later, Shalit's parents attended the annual gala hosted by the French Jewish umbrella group CRIF.
Sarkozy had met repeatedly with Gilad’s father, Noam, after the young Israeli soldier, who has dual French citizenship, was captured on the border with Gaza in 2006 and held hostage there for more than five years by Hamas.
During the CRIF dinner, Noam Shalit thanked Sarkozy and the French people for their efforts to help to free his son, adding that due to poor health, Gilad was not able to attend the event.
Sarkozy, a regular speaker at the CRIF event, is struggling in popularity polls and still has not declared his candidacy for president ahead of spring elections. But the self-described enthusiastic “friend of Israel” gave an energetic and occasionally emotional speech at the gala, condemning Shalit’s “barbaric” captors.
“Shame on those who did this!” he said to rousing applause.
Sarkozy also gave a warning against resorting to military force in Iran. He called for reinforced sanctions against Iran “to avoid tragedy: the drama of a military conflict that would solve nothing and would complicate everything.”
By toughening sanctions, he added, “We want to reassure the leaders of Israel, so that the irreparable is not committed," he said, adding that "the solution is never military.”
Sarkozy also touched on anti-Semitism in France, the Arab Spring and a sensitive French vote in favor of the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO's recognition of Palestinian statehood. He also appealed for accelerated efforts toward Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Bipartisan political heavyweights, including Sarkozy's chief rival for the presidency, Socialist Francois Hollande, made their traditional appearances at the gala in support of France’s Jewish community.