Barak: Israel Wants Shalit Home, But Not at Any Cost


barak-netanyahuDefense Minister Ehud Barak said yesterday that while Israel was committed to seeing the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, it would not accede to a prisoner swap deal “at any cost.” “We are committed to bringing Gilad home alive and well,” Barak told a conference of educators in Cholon. “We will continue to do everything possible and appropriate, though not at any cost, in order to bring him home quickly.”

Shalit has been in Palestinian captivity since he was abducted by militants from the Gaza Strip in a 2006 cross-border raid. Negotiations for his release have so far yielded little results, as the sides differ on terms of the deal.

Israel’s chief negotiator in the deal, Chaggai Hadas, met yesterday with the soldier’s father, Noam Shalit, to update him on progress in the negotiations.

A European source told Lebanese media earlier Wednesday that a deal for Shalit’s release could be reached before the upcoming Yomim Tovim in September.

According to the sources, Syria and a number of uncited states have agreed to take in prisoners who Israel wants exiled from the West Bank and Gaza.

Neither Israel nor Hamas confirmed the Lebanese report.

Meanwhile, officials from Hamas’ military wing – including its leader Ahmed Jabri – departed for Cairo on Wednesday, marking an important development in a deal for the release of abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

Jabri joined senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar, whose travel to Cairo was reported by Palestinian news agency Maan on Tuesday.

This constitutes a major development, as the last time Jabri traveled to Cairo was at the end of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s term when there were escalated hopes for a last-minute deal.

A Web site affiliated with Islamic Jihad on Wednesday reported that the head of German Foreign Intelligence (BND) Ernst Uhrlau has been brokering the prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas.

Ayman Taha, a senior Hamas official, on Tuesday told Reuters: “There is nothing new except the German intervention, which caused things to move. But things have not yet reached a breakthrough.”

Nevertheless, Haaretz learned that Hamas may be willing to show some flexibiliy in the exchange and that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is close to concluding a deal with the Islamist group.

At the end of Olmert’s term in March, Israel had refused to release 125 of the 450 prisoners Hamas was demanding in exchange for Shalit – those who committed the most serious offenses.

The two sides had also disagreed over how many prisoners from the West Bank would be sent to the Gaza Strip or abroad after their release.

{Haaretz/Yair Newscenter}