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Renewed hope for talks to free Shalit

Israel hopes to renew negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit, writes Yaakov Katz, if the new ceasefire holds, defence officials said this week.

    Israel hopes to renew negotiations for the release of Gilad Shalit, writes Yaakov Katz, if the new ceasefire holds, defence officials said this week.

    Talks over Mr Shalit’s release have been suspended since the last ceasefire between Hamas and Israel took effect in June. But military officials said it was now possible that Operation Cast Lead will cause the group to ease its demand for the release of 1,400 Palestinian prisoners.

    “The intensive efforts to secure Gilad’s release began long before the operation, continued during it and will continue after as well,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said. “The Government of Israel is working on many levels to bring him home, and during the operation we carried out various actions to bring us closer to this goal.”

    Defence sources said Hamas would likely to be interested in finalising a prisoner swap following the IDF’s devastating attack in Gaza to boost its popularity on the Palestinian street.

    Israel has urged Egypt to put Mr Shalit at the top of its agenda in talks with Hamas officials in Cairo. Egyptian Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman is the mediator.

    The Shalit family complained that the unilateral ceasefire started before his release had been secured. Many soldiers have also said that they would have preferred to fight Hamas until it released Mr Shalit, captured in June 2006.

    “Gilad’s return should be an indispensable part of any ceasefire or any agreement to end the war,” his father Noam said. “We see this as a critical widow of opportunity for Gilad’s return, after two-and-a-half years in captivity, that will not come again.”

    Earlier this month, 11 retired senior IDF officers wrote to Mr Olmert and Defence Minister Ehud Barak, demanding that they include Mr Shalit’s release in a ceasefire agreement.

    “Operation Cast Lead has created a one-time opportunity to bring back soldier Gilad Schalit, who has been held hostage for more than two years,” the letter read. “Now that Hamas is cornered, it is possible to force it to release Shalit on different conditions than before the military operation.”

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