WASHINGTON (RNS) Two Muslim congressmen and other prominent Muslims have urged Hamas to release Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured in a cross-border raid five years ago and has been held ever since in the Gaza Strip.
Their hope is that Shalit’s release will spark more goodwill gestures between the militant Palestinian group and Israel, and remove Shalit’s imprisonment as an obstacle to substantive peace talks.

“It’s a shot in the dark,” said Akbar Ahmed, a former Pakistani ambassador to Great Britain who now teaches at American University, and one of 11 Muslim leaders who signed the letter. “But if one side can make a gesture purely on the basis of compassion, it might have an impact on the other side.”

The letter was timed to the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims are called upon to be particularly compassionate.

“We believe Hamas’ harsh treatment and five-year detention of Shalit is wrong,” said the letter, which was also signed by U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Andre Carson, D-Ind., and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who spearheaded efforts to build a Muslim community center near Ground Zero.

Hamas has not allowed Shalit’s family or the International Red Cross to visit him.

The letter acknowledges Hamas’ complaints against Israel, but reminds that the Prophet Muhammad taught his followers to “repel the evil deed with one that is better.”

Hamas is demanding the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit, who turned 25 on Sunday (Aug. 28). Israeli officials have said that the list includes many prisoners who are dangerous.

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