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New push in Shalit mediation

Defence Minister Ehud Barack has dispatched a senior aide to Egypt to renew negotiations with Hamas for the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit.

    In an effort to renew negotiations with Hamas for the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit, Defence Minister Ehud Barak dispatched a senior aide to Cairo this week for talks with Egypt.

    Cairo has mediated between Israel and Hamas since Mr Shalit was captured in a cross-border attack in June 2006. Since Israel's prisoner swap with Hizbollah in July, however, talks have been frozen.

    On Sunday, Maj-Gen (ret) Amos Gilad, head of the MOD's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, flew to Cairo for talks with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, tasked by President Hosni Mubarak with the mediation.

    The negotiations stalled over the summer after Hamas said it would only release Mr Shalit in exchange for 1,400 prisoners. Three weeks ago, Israel announced that it was prepared to release 450 prisoners in the exchange.

    Mr Suleiman has been working on formulating a deal that would include a prisoner swap as well as the re-opening of the Rafah Crossing between Egypt and Gaza. Last week, Mr Suleiman met Hamas representatives in Cairo to discuss the deal.

    Defence officials said that time was running out to bring Mr Shalit home.

    "The longer we wait the more difficult it will be to strike a deal with Hamas," one official said. "The ceasefire in Gaza is fragile and could collapse any day. If that happens, there will not be any dialogue with Hamas over Shalit's release."

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