Netanayahu: ‘I Am Torn Between Freeing Hostages And Protecting Israelis’


netanyahuPrime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today met with the families of fallen IDF soldiers and with relatives of terror victims and told them he is torn about the deal to free abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.¬† “I face two vital principles – the desire to free hostages and the desire to protect Israeli citizens from an attack in the future,” Netanyahu told the families.

The families, who met with Netanyahu in wake of the progress being made in the negotiations with Hamas, expressed opposition to the prisoner exchange deal being negotiated with the Islamist group because they warn that convicted Palestinians Israel would release could initiate more deadly attacks.

Shalit was kidnapped by Gaza militants in a 2006 cross-border raid, and Hamas is demanding the release of hundreds of prisoners in exchange for his freedom.

Netanyahu said he had taken note of the families warning.

After the meeting, which lasted an hour and a half, Netanyahu told the families that his meeting with them was important to him on both the personal and national level.

Under a proposed deal, about 1,000 of some 11,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails would be released.

Officials familiar with the talks said Israel was intent on barring Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis from returning to the West Bank, which is close to Israeli population centers. They might instead be sent to the Gaza Strip or foreign countries.

Hamas had accepted that some released prisoners would be exiled but wanted them to be able to choose their destinations, the officials said.

It was unclear whether Israel had dropped its opposition to freeing 20 top militants whose release Hamas has demanded. Israel says they are responsible for dozens of deaths.

Netanyahu discussed a swap with senior ministers, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak, on Monday, while Shalit’s family, joined by demonstrators seeking his release, held a vigil outside the Israeli leader’s office.

The Shalit family returned to its home in Mitzpeh Hila late Monday.

A member of the campaign for Shalit’s release said that Netanyahu’s instructions to continue negotiations “indicates progress. The family and the campaign still hope the prime minister will make the decision to see Gilad Shalit freed as soon as possible.”

Israel gave the German mediator its response late Monday, after senior cabinet ministers held marathon talks at Netanyahu’s office. No further details were immediately available.

The top-level meetings ended shortly after midnight without an announcement of a decision over whether the forum of seven, comprising Netanyahu and six other senior cabinet ministers, had decided to accept or reject Hamas’ offer.

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Bureau said today, however, that the ministers were not expected to convene again at this stage.

The Hamas government was scheduled to hold its weekly meeting tonight, and the deal was likely on the agenda, said a group official.

The forum of seven convened after nightfall Monday for the fifth consecutive meeting on the issue over the last two days in a frenzy of activity that suggested a deal could be close.

The group was divided, however, with some ministers opposed freeing Palestinians convicted in fatal attacks, arguing they could kill again.

After more than four hours of talks, Netanyahu’s office released a statement saying only that instructions were given to the negotiating team about the continuation of efforts to bring Shalit home safe and sound.

The forum of seven deals with sensitive security affairs, and is made up of Netanyahu (Likud); Barak (Labor); Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu); Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin (Likud); Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya’alon (Likud); Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas); and Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy Dan Meridor (Likud).

{Haaretz/Yair Israel}