Hamas has heightened the pressure on Israel by releasing another letter from captured soldier Gilad Shalit.
In the letter, addressed to his parents, First-Sergeant Shalit begged for his life and urged the Israeli government to do everything in its power to secure his release.
The ostensible reason for Mr Shalit’s letter, the third sent since his capture in June 2006 — Hamas also released a recording in his voice a year ago — was the promise given to former US President Jimmy Carter by Hamas leaders in their meeting last month. The timing, though, was almost certainly aimed at influencing deliberations in the Israeli cabinet over whether to accept an Egypt-brokered ceasefire with Hamas or launch a military attack on the Gaza Strip.
The one-page letter was sent by fax to President Carter’s office in Ramallah on Sunday night and authenticated by a handwriting expert.
In the letter, Mr Shalit mentions recent events, proving that it was written in the past few days. The Shalit family requested that the precise text of the letter not be released, but Mr Shalit’s father, Noam, said that his son demanded that the government agree to Hamas’s terms for his release.
There is little doubt that the wording of the letter was dictated by his captors. An assistant to President Carter told Ha’aretz that the letter also contained “worrying” details on Mr Shalit’s health. Noam Shalit said that “this is better than nothing, but it doesn’t put our minds at rest. Gilad has been a prisoner for almost two years and it doesn’t seem as if there is any breakthrough towards his release.”
A military source involved in the negotiations over Mr Shalit’s release told the JC: “The negotiations have been held in an inept fashion almost from the moment he was captured. Israel could have obtained his release for a much lower price than the one being discussed now, but instead the government sent the army into Gaza on an operation. We could have saved lives on both sides and had have Gilad home if we’d embarked on a different course.”
On Wednesday, the cabinet met to discuss a new course of action regarding Gaza and the continued missile and mortar attacks which claimed the life of 51-year-old Amnon Rosenberg last Thursday. Most ministers were in favour of a new military operation and opposed accepting an Egypt-brokered ceasefire, mainly because it does not include any assurances over Mr Shalit’s safety or any reassurance that Hamas will not use the ceasefire to further build up its military capabilities.
But despite the majority view, Defence Minister Ehud Barak insisted that Israel should still give a chance to the Egyptian efforts. Mr Barak was backed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the cabinet reluctantly approved sending Israeli representatives to Cairo to try and finalise the deal. At the same time, the IDF will continue its preparation for a large operation in Gaza if a deal is not achieved or does not hold.