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Free Shalit is Olmert’s final goal

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has set a new goal for himself before he leaves office — the return of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit.

    With general elections two weeks away and Israel’s operation in Gaza against Hamas seemingly completed, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has set a new goal for himself before he leaves office — the return of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit.

    Despite the military action, the likelihood of a prisoner swap being agreed in the coming weeks is believed to have grown since Israel ended Operation Cast Lead.

    “The chances are greater today to secure his release,” Defence Minister Ehud Barak said this week. “We will need to make tough decisions but we need to do everything possible to bring Shalit home.”

    On Tuesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy met Mr Shalit’s father Noam in Paris and informed him of confirmation he had recently received that the abducted soldier was alive. Mr Shalit has dual Israeli and French citizenship.

    “There is some hope but it is still too early to tell if it is real,” Mr Shalit said after his meeting with Mr Sarkozy. “The issue is complicated and sensitive and it is not really over until it is over.”

    Since the operation in Gaza, Israeli officials have said that it is possible that the government will link the opening of the crossings into the Strip to Mr Shalit’s release.

    Hamas has already rejected the proposal and stands by its original demand that close to 1,400 prisoners be released, including a list of some 700 terrorists with Israeli blood on their hands.

    On Tuesday, an Israeli Bedouin IDF tracker was killed and three other soldiers were seriously wounded after a bomb went off next to their patrol along the Israeli-Gaza border.

    Israel responded by sending troops back into Gaza in search of additional bombs. The Air Force also bombed a motorbike being driven by a Hamas operative who, defence officials said, was involved in the attack.

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