Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has blamed the intensive media campaign for the release of Gilad Shalit for the breakdown of the talks over a possible prisoner deal — and told his family that they may have harmed his cause.
This week the Israeli government announced that it had refused Hamas demands for the release of 450 senior terrorists, many of them jailed for life for murder.
Mr Olmert met Aviva and Noam Shalit, the parents of the captured soldier, and blamed the breakdown on the emotional campaign of the past two weeks, during which thousands of supporters visited the tent the Shalits had set up outside his official residence.
At a cabinet meeting, the commander of the IDF’s Intelligence Department, Major General Amos Yadlin, said that public protest in Israel and “media spins” had emboldened Hamas to stick to its demands without making any concessions.
Israel’s representatives at the talks, General Security Service (GSS) Chief Yuval Diskin and Mr Olmert’s personal envoy Ofer Dekel, reported that Hamas had refused to compromise on the full list of prisoners it demanded in return for Gilad Shalit’s freedom.
Israel had agreed to release 325 terrorists on the list, many of them convicted criminals. The remaining 125 are those who, according to the GSS, have unique knowledge and organisational skills and are potential senior Hamas terrorists.
In a statement after the cabinet meeting, Mr Olmert said: “We will not cease in our efforts but we have red-lines that we will not cross.”
The Shalit family and their supporters angrily rebuffed the accusations that their campaign had harmed the negotiations, “instead of delivering statements and explanations, why the efforts have failed,” said Noam Shalit. “Olmert should start acting vigorously and bring results.” Today (Friday) marks exactly 1,000 days since Gilad Shalit was taken prisoner in a Hamas raid on an IDF position near Kerem Shalom on the Israel-Gaza border.
Despite Mr Olmert’s assurance that negotiations would go on until the last day of his government, it is now expected that the efforts to liberate Shalit will be the responsibility of the new Netanyahu government, to be sworn in next week. Mr Olmert
instructed a ministerial group to deliver a list of recommendations by Sunday for putting pressure on Hamas, specifically worsening the conditions of its prisoners in Israeli hands.