Gilad Shalit released from the military


Former captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has been released from the Israel Defense Forces.

Shalit was officially released, at the rank of sergeant-major, on Wednesday, six months after he was freed from Hamas captivity in Gaza.

Shalit signed his release forms at his home in Mitzpe Hila in northern Israel, in lieu of going to an IDF induction center, as part of an expedited administrative procedure, according to reports.

Shalit was held in Gaza for five years after being captured by Hamas in a cross-border raid in June 2006. He was released in October 2011 as part of a swap deal between Israel and Hamas in which nearly 500 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails were released at the time of his freeing, and another 550 in December.

Following his release from Hamas captivity Shalit was classified as a disabled veteran; he received medical and psychological treatment from the military, and will continue to do so through the Ministry of Defense’s Disabled Rehabilitation Division, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Palestinian terrorists released in Shalit swap return to terror


Israel’s Shin Bet security service highlighted two Palestinian terrorists released in the swap for Gilad Shalit who have resumed terrorist activity.

One of the terrorists, who was deported to Gaza, wrote guidelines for future abductions, including “The captive should not be hidden in remote locations, caves, or woodland unless it’s a dead body or the captive’s head.” He also tried to recruit young Palestinian residents of the West Bank to kidnap Israelis.

A second terrorist was sentenced to 44 months in prison last month for arms trafficking. He also must serve his prison term for his original offense.

Some 1,077 Palestinians in Israeli jails were released six months ago in a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas in order to secure the release of Shalit, an Israeli soldier who had been held captive in Gaza for more than five years.

Eight Palestinian prisoners released as part of the swap for Shalit have been arrested again for participating in terrorist activity, Haaretz reported.

Israel frees 550 Palestinians in Shalit swap


Israel released 550 Palestinian prisoners Sunday in the second stage of a deal with Hamas that brought home soldier Gilad Shalit after five years of captivity in the Gaza Strip.

While many of the 450 prisoners freed on October 18 in the first phase of the Egyptian-brokered prisoner swap were serving life sentences for deadly attacks, none in the second group was convicted of killings.

Nearly all of the prisoners passed through a crossing into the West Bank and were greeted by thousands of Palestinians who danced and cheered in the city of Ramallah.

Though Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, had reached the deal with Israel, most of the crowd waved flags from the rival Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the dominant party in the West Bank.

In Gaza, two buses with 41 prisoners, escorted by the International Committee of the Red Cross, passed through the Rafah crossing and were met by hundreds of relatives waving flags representing the different Palestinian factions.

“My feelings of joy are mixed with sorrow because we left behind beloved brothers, we hope all of them will be freed,” said Samer Aweidat, who was released after serving four years of a six-year sentence for weapons possession and being a member of a miltant group.

Israel’s Supreme Court opened the way for Sunday’s release to go ahead by turning down a petition Friday from Israelis opposed to freeing the prisoners, whose terms ranged from a few months to 18 years.

They were convicted of crimes that included attempted murder, planting bombs and membership of militant groups.

Shalit was abducted in June 2006 by militants who tunnelled into Israel from the Gaza Strip and surprised his tank crew, killing two of his comrades. He was held incommunicado in the Hamas-ruled territory and a huge majority of Israelis backed the deal that brought him home two months ago.

Hani Habib, a political analyst in Gaza, said that Israel, given the opportunity to pick which prisoners would be freed in the second stage, chose inmates from Fatah rather than Hamas.

“Israel was interested in turning the victory that has been achieved into a Palestinian discomfort and a Palestinian division with its discrimination,” he said.

Hamas said it would petition Egypt to pressure Israel into freeing all the Palestinian women in its jails, something it had wanted to happen in Sunday’s release.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller

Senior Hamas leader arrested in West Bank


Israel arrested a senior Hamas leader just two months after releasing him from prison.

Hassan Yousef and his son were arrested Tuesday morning at their home in the West Bank.

Yousef, a Hamas founder, recently completed a six-year prison sentence on terrorism-related charges.

He was one of the Palestinian leaders who greeted the Palestinian prisoners released in the Shalit as they crossed from Israeli custody into the West Bank.

He is well known as the father of Mosab Hassan Yousef, who became an informant for Israel’s Mossad during the second Intifada and wrote a book about his experiences, called “Son of Hamas.”

Hamas report: Hamas releases Israeli soldier in prisoner swap


Gaza’s Hamas Islamist rulers released captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit on Tuesday in return for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, a Hamas military source said, in a deal ending a saga that has gripped Israel for five years.

The source said Shalit, 25, was taken across the frontier from the Gaza Strip into Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, where he was handed over to Egyptian officials, who were due to take him to Israel’s nearby Vineyard of Peace border crossing.

There was no immediate confirmation from Israel or Egypt.

In a carefully choreographed swap, Israel was due to release 477 Palestinian prisoners during the day, some of whom were put on buses ready for transfer to Gaza, which is run by Hamas. Other were set to be freed in the occupied West Bank.

Israel will release a further 550 prisoners in a second stage of the Egyptian-brokered agreement, expected in about two months.

“This is the greatest joy for the Palestinian people,” said Azzia al-Qawasmeh, awaiting at a West Bank checkpoint for her son Amer, who she said had been in prison for 24 years.

Fire-crackers, fluttering flags and honking car horns marked an early start to celebrations in the city of Gaza, where young men converged on a central square for a mass rally to await speeches by prominent prisoners and Hamas leaders.

The mood in Israel was also one of elation.

Shalit has been popularly portrayed as “everyone’s son” and opinion polls showed that an overwhelming majority of Israeli backed the thousand-for-one deal, although many of the prisoners going free were convicted of deadly attacks.

“I am happy this day has come. Gilad will soon return to you,” an official statement quoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as telling Shalit’s parents at an airbase in central Israel, where the soldier will be flown later.

For Palestinians, it was a time to celebrate what Hamas hailed as a victory, and a heroes’ welcome awaited the released prisoners. Palestinians see brethren jailed by Israel as prisoners of war in a struggle for statehood.

HIGH PRICE

The deal received a green light from Israel’s Supreme Court late on Monday after it rejected petitions from the public to prevent the mass release of prisoners, many serving life sentences for deadly attacks.

Shalit was abducted in June 2006 by militants who tunneled into Israel from the Gaza Strip and surprised his tank crew, killing two of his comrades. He has since been held incommunicado and was last seen looking pale and thin in a 2009 video shot by his captors.

The repatriation of captured soldiers, alive or dead, has long been an emotionally charged issue for Israelis. Many have served in the military as conscripts and see it as sacrosanct. But they also feel stung by the high price they feel Israel is paying for Shalit.

“I understand the difficulty in accepting that the vile people who committed the heinous crimes against your loved ones will not pay the full price they deserve,” Netanyahu wrote in a letter, released by his office, to bereaved Israeli families.

As part of the deal, Hamas agreed with an Israeli demand that 40 of those freed on Tuesday should be sent into exile, with Turkey, Syria and Qatar agreeing to take in the Palestinians.

Israel, which withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, tightened its blockade of the coastal territory after Shalit was seized and taken there.

The deal with Hamas, a group classified by the United States and European Union as a terrorist organization over its refusal to recognize Israel and renounce violence, is not expected to have a direct impact on efforts to revive Middle East peace talks.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a Hamas rival, is seeking U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood in the absence of negotiations which collapsed 13 months ago in a dispute over settlement-building in the occupied West Bank.

(Additional reporting by Rami Amichai, Ronen Zvulun, Ari Rabinovitch, Nidal al-Mughrabi Douglas Hamilton, Mohammed Salem and Tom Perry; Writing by Jeffrey Heller, editing by Crispian Balmer)

Shalit says in good health during interview on Egypt TV


Freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit said on Tuesday he was in good health and he hoped his release in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons would lead to peace between the two peoples.

In an interview shortly after his release, Shalit, 25, looked tired and dazed, hesitating as he replied to questions from an Egyptian TV reporter.

Speaking through a translator, Shalit said he would be very happy if remaining Palestinians held in Israeli prisons were freed to return to their own families.

“Of course I miss my family very much. I also miss my friends,” he said. “I hope this deal will lead to peace between Palestinians and Israelis and that it will support cooperation between both sides.”

Reporting by Tamim Elyan and Marwa Awad

Video footage of Gilad Shalit’s release


Israeli Supreme Court discusses prisoner exchange appeals


Israelis opposed to a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas sought Supreme Court intervention on Monday to block the release of hundreds of jailed Palestinians in return for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

The first phase of the swap, to take place on Tuesday, should bring to a close a saga that has gripped Israelis over the five years of Shalit’s captivity in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

But under Israeli law, those against the planned release of 477 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom were convicted of deadly attacks, can appeal before the exchange is carried out.

Four petitions were filed with the Supreme Court by the Almagor Terror Victims Association and relatives of Israelis killed in Palestinian attacks.

Judging from similar appeals in prisoner exchange deals in the past, the court is unlikely to intervene in what it considers a political and security issue.

“I understand the difficulty in accepting that the vile people who committed the heinous crimes against your loved ones will not pay the full price they deserve,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote in a letter, released by his office, to bereaved Israeli families.

Hamas prepared a heroes’ welcome in Gaza for 295 of the prisoners due to be sent to the Israeli-blockaded territory. Palestinians regard brethren jailed by Israel as prisoners of war in a struggle for statehood. Israel holds some 6,000 Palestinian prisoners.

An opinion poll in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth found that 79 percent of the public supported the deal with Hamas, an Islamist group that advocates Israel’s destruction.

Shalit, now 25, was captured in 2006 by militants who tunneled into Israel from the Gaza Strip and surprised his tank crew, killing two of his comrades.

Israel, which withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, tightened its blockade of the coastal territory after he was seized and spirited into the Gaza Strip.

The repatriation of captured soldiers, alive or dead, has long been an emotionally charged issue for Israelis, many of whom have served in the military. But they also feel a sting over the high price they feel Israel paid for Shalit.

Yossi Zur, whose son Asaf was among 17 people killed in a suicide bombing on a bus in the Israeli city of Haifa in 2003, asked the Supreme Court to prevent the release of the prisoners, three of whom were linked to the attack.

“From our experience with past deals, and sadly we have a lot of experience, we know how many Israelis will be killed as a result of the release of these terrorists. I am here to protect my children who are still alive,” Zur told Channel 10 television.

In a rare step, the court has allowed Shalit’s parents to appear and argue in favor of the deal for their son.

“Nobody knows what the impact of any delay, or any change, even the smallest, in the terms would be,” they wrote in a letter to the court.

Israel’s Prison Service has bused the 477 Palestinian prisoners under heavy guard to two holding facilities ahead of their release.

On Tuesday, some of the Palestinians will be brought to Egypt’s Sinai desert, where the exchange for Shalit will take place. Some of those prisoners will be taken to the Gaza Strip and 41 will be exiled abroad. Shalit will be flown to an air base in Israel to be reunited with his family.

A smaller group of prisoners on the release roster will be taken from Israel to the West Bank, where they will be welcomed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a Hamas rival, and their families.

Hamas sources said the exiled prisoners will be received by Turkey, Qatar and Syria after being brought to Cairo, where the movement’s leader, Khaled Meshaal, will greet them.

In the second stage, expected to take place in about two months, the remaining 550 Palestinian prisoners will be freed, officials said.

Israel’s deal with Hamas seemed unlikely to have an impact on international efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which collapsed 13 months ago.

Abbas has been pursuing a bid for U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the absence of negotiations with Israel.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller and Ari Rabinovich; Editing by Angus MacSwan; Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza

Red Cross discusses prisoner swap with Israel, Hamas


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has offered to facilitate the exchange of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for Palestinian prisoners and is discussing this with Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, an ICRC spokesman said on Thursday.

“We are talking to both sides about our offer. We have offered our services as a neutral intermediary to both sides,” ICRC spokesman Marcal Izard told Reuters in response to a query.

“The ICRC will act as a neutral intermediary if both parties agree to request the organization’s humanitarian services in order to facilitate the transfer of released detainees,” he said.

Israel and Hamas have agreed an Egyptian- and German-brokered deal to swap more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for Shalit, a 25-year-old held captive in Gaza since June 2006.

The swap is expected to take place sometime next week on Egyptian territory at locations somewhere in the Sinai Desert, as yet undisclosed.

Shalit’s parents, Noam and Aviva, have met senior officials at the ICRC headquarters in Geneva over the years.

In June, on the 5th anniversary of his capture by Palestinian militants who tunneled into Israel, the ICRC issued an unusual public appeal calling on Hamas to provide proof that he was still alive and to allow contact with his family, as required under international humanitarian law.

“The ICRC welcomes that the ordeal of the family of Gilad Shalit will end and Gilad Shalit will soon see his family again,” Izard said. “The ICRC also welcomes the reunion of the released Palestinian detainees with their families.”

The independent humanitarian agency has helped with previous prisoner exchanges between Hamas Islamists and Israel, transporting detainees to crossing points after privately interviewing them to ensure that they want to return.

In 2009, the ICRC facilitated the return to Gaza and the West Bank of 20 Palestinian women released from Israeli custody.

“We don’t know yet if we will play this role in this particular operation,” Izard said.

“The most important point is private interviews held with detainees to make sure they are sent to a place in accordance with their free will,” he added.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alistair Lyon

Report: Shalit swap to get underway Tuesday


Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit will be freed from five years of captivity in the Gaza Strip sometime next week in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

The swap is expected to take place on Egyptian territory at locations somewhere in the Sinai Desert, as yet undisclosed.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has facilitated previous swaps, has offered its services as a neutral intermediary and is discussing this with Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, a spokesman in Geneva said.

The timing and choreography of the exchange have not been made public. But the approximate mechanics can be sketched from details gleaned from Palestinian and Israeli sources.

The handover will begin with carefully timed, simultaneous moves somewhere in Egypt. But Shalit and the men and women for whom he is being traded are not likely to even come close to seeing each other.

The deal, over three years in the making and a casualty of at least two breakdowns, was finally brokered last week with Egyptian mediation between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.

It was signed and announced by both on Tuesday evening.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday telephoned Egypt’s military council chief, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, to thank him on behalf of all Israelis for Cairo’s “successful intensive efforts.”

Israeli law, which stipulates a 48-hour period for any citizen to formally oppose the release of any prisoner, plus this week’s Jewish religious holiday, mean it is likely to be Tuesday at the earliest before the operation can take place.

Shalit is 25 and has been the focus of an emotional campaign since soon after his capture in June 2006. He was last seen, looking pale and thin, in a 2009 video shot by his captors, and he is sure to get a hero’s welcome in Israel.

The Palestinian side is also preparing to celebrate the release of 450 men and 27 women, including prison veterans held in Israeli jails for 30 years.

Some will be greeted at home. Others will be exiled to third countries, as yet unnamed, without stopping on Palestinian soil.

One member of a Gaza militant faction who is involved in arrangements to receive prisoners set to return to the enclave forecast the handover for Tuesday “if all goes smoothly.”

DESTINATION UNKNOWN

Israel occupied the Gaza Strip from 1967 to 2005, when it withdrew settlers and troops. Control of the enclave was seized in 2007 by Hamas militants who drove out the mainstream Palestinian movement Fatah, with a pledge never to recognize Israel and to keep fighting “the Zionist entity.”

Somewhere in Gaza is the secret cell where Shalit, abducted in a raid by Hamas and allied gunmen who tunneled under the front line, has been held for years, without visitors, to extract the maximum concessions from Israel in a prisoner swap.

It is expected that Shalit will be taken across Gaza’s southwestern border into Egyptian territory while groups of Palestinian prisoners are transferred from Israeli jails to the Egyptian border near Eilat, on the edge of the Sinai Desert.

Former enemies Egypt and Israel have been at peace since 1979, so there is no political obstacle blocking cooperation between their security forces to facilitate the swap.

Shalit is likely to be flown to Israel by military aircraft. The Palestinians will have further to travel, possibly by bus and plane through Egypt and on to a variety of destinations.

Of the 450 Palestinian men and 27 women to be freed in this first phase of the exchange, out of a total of 1,000 men set for release in the coming months, 111 will go home to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, and 130 will go home to the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip.

Six Arab-Israeli prisoners will be allowed to return to their homes in Israel. The rest—203 men and two of the 27 women prisoners—will be exiled to unnamed third countries, probably to join the Palestinian diaspora.

Israel is expected to publish the list of Palestinian names agreed with Hamas on Sunday morning. It will not include a few of the most prominent activists jailed for violent attacks on Israelis, but 310 men serving life terms will be freed, including one man aged 79.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Alistair Lyon

Shalit spends 25th birthday in captivity


Captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit spent his 25th birthday in captivity.

Sunday was the sixth birthday that Shalit has marked in captivity since he was captured by Hamas terrorists in a cross-border raid in June 2006.

Shalit’s parents led a protest in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem on Sunday, with banners reading “We won’t let Gilad celebrate alone.” Another banner called on Netanyahu to give Shalit “his life back” for his birthday.

In a letter to their son to mark his birthday, Noam and Aviva Shalit wrote:

“With the burning sun beating on our heads, on the sidewalk adjacent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s home, we are trying to digest the fact that 1,890 days have passed and you still are not with us. …

“We’re here. We haven’t given up, we haven’t surrendered, and we have not been broken. And we are not alone. Our dearest Gilad, many many people who are strangers to you, who you have never met, think as we do, that it is inconceivable to speak of social solidarity, of national fortitude and of having faith in the State while abandoning you to your fate. Day after day, lonely and abandoned in Hamas dungeons for over half a decade.”

Hamas rejects German mediator’s offer on Shalit


Hamas rejected an offer to free captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit made by the German mediator, a deal which the Israeli government had accepted.

Hamas political bureau deputy chief Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzouk called the offer “unjust” and said the German mediator “endorsed the unfair and unjust positions of the Zionist government,” in an interview with the Al Hayat newspaper, according to reports.

Hamas will no longer negotiate with the German mediator, he added.

“There is no chance that the German mediator will return, because he is not carrying out his duties and is failing in his mission. We all expected that he would present a fair and not extreme position. But instead of trying to reduce the demands of the Israeli government, he accepted its terms,” Marzouk said.

A German government spokesman confirmed on Monday that Israel had accepted the mediator’s proposal, the Associated Press reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel had accepted a German-mediated deal for the release of Shalit and was awaiting Hamas’ response.

Netanyahu did not specify the terms of the proposal. June 25 marked the fifth anniversary of Shalit’s capture in a cross-border raid near Gaza.

“This proposal was harsh; it was not simple for the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said Sunday in a statement released after the weekly Cabinet meeting. “However, we agreed to accept it in the belief that it was balanced between our desire to secure Gilad’s release and to prevent possible harm to the lives and security of the Israeli people. As of now, we have yet to receive Hamas’s official answer to the German mediator’s proposal.

The statement said that “The State of Israel is ready to go far, more than any other country, in order to secure Gilad’s release.”

Rep. Ackerman introduces Shalit resolution


U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) introduced a resolution calling for the immediate and unconditional release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Tuesday’s resolution is Ackerman’s third calling for Shalit’s release. He introduced similar measures in March 2007 and June 2010 during previous Congresses. Next week will mark five years since Shalit was captured by Hamas in a cross-border raid.

“I think it is absolutely essential that the United States keep faith with our Israeli allies and stand with them in calling for the immediate release of IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit,” Ackerman said in a statement. “The terrorists in Hamas, it should be recalled, snuck into Israel proper and attacked a group of IDF soldiers for the purpose of kidnapping Cpl. Shalit in order to hold him hostage.”

Ackerman, a member of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, has met with Shalit’s family in Israel, Washington and New York.

“Hamas’ stooges can say whatever they want about this blood-soaked bunch of terrorists, but their behavior, in the form of unrelenting violence against Israeli civilians and the disgusting anti-Semitism they spew, shows their true beliefs and their real values,” Ackerman said. “Congress must stand with Israel in calling for Cpl. Shalit’s immediate and unconditional release, and I expect many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this resolution and call for its consideration and adoption by the House.”

Shalit family to PM: Your refusal to free Gilad signs his death sentence


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to strike a deal that would secure the release of Gilad Shalit is equivalent to signing the abducted Israeli soldier’s death sentence, a missive from the Shalit family said on Thursday.

Writing in an open letter to Netanyahu on Thursday, Zvi Shalit, Gilad’s grandfather severely criticized what he considered the premier’s inaction in face the IDF soldier’s captivity, saying that “a year ago a deal to secure Gilad’s release was all but signed but you thwarted it in a last-minute decision.”

“Your refusal then and today to comply with the request of former defense officials to free Gilad at the said price is tantamount to Gilad’s death sentence,” Zvi Shalit said, adding: “My grandson was a healthy young man when he was taken at nineteen. If he dies in Gaza, it will be a long and excruciating death.”

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Jailed Palestinian engineer denies knowledge of Shalit


A Palestinian engineer secretly captured in Ukraine and jailed in Israel denies having any knowledge of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Didar Abu Sisi, a Gaza electric power plant engineer, has been held in an Israeli prison for more than a month after being arrested in Ukraine by Israeli agents. Sisi, 42, reportedly was visiting Ukraine with his Ukraine-born wife and their six children in order to apply for Ukrainian citizenship.

During a hearing Thursday in Petach Tikvah District Court to extend his remand, Abu Sisi denied that he had any knowledge about Shalit, who has been held by Hamas in Gaza for five years after being captured in a cross-border raid.

Abu Sisi has internal information on Hamas, though he is not directly linked to Shalit’s kidnapping, Defense Minister Ehud Barak asserted Thursday on Israel Radio. Abu Sisi told reporters at the court that he had not been interrogated about Shalit.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday during a live question-and-answer session on YouTube that Abu Sisi provided “important information,” but did not specify what it was.

Abu Sisi likely will be charged with membership in a terrorist organization. Most areas of the case are under a gag order.

Hamas has denied any connection to Abu Sisi.

Israelis observe five minutes for Shalit


Israelis observed five minutes of silence in honor of captive soldier Gilad Shalit.

The country came to a halt Tuesday morning as Israelis observed one minute for every year that Shalit has been held captive by Hamas in Gaza.

Cars on the street and people walking on sidewalks stopped; all work in the Knesset also halted. President Shimon Peres paused in the middle of an address to the Negev Conference in Eilat.

“For the past five years, the entire nation has been united in its hearts in the hope that Gilad Shalit will be here with us, healthy and whole,” Peres said at the conference. “Shalit family, we feel like a part of your family. Gilad is a soldier in the IDF, and the entire country will not rest until he comes home.”

Shalit was captured in a cross-border raid between Israel and Gaza in June 2006.

Hamas has demanded the release of 1,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails, including some directly responsible for the deaths of Israelis.

In October 2009, Hamas released a one-minute videotape of Shalit. Hamas has not allowed the Red Cross to visit Shalit.

Hamas officials go to Syria to confer on Shalit deal


A Hamas delegation from Gaza reportedly is en route to Syria to discuss a possible deal for the release of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

The delegation was to leave Gaza on Friday for Sudan, then continue on to Damascus, the Gaza-based Palestine Today reported. The Hamas leadership in Damascus traditionally has taken a harsher line on Israel-related issues than the Hamas leadership in Gaza.

Israel and Hamas have been in touch via a German mediator regarding talks to release Shalit, who was taken captive in a cross-border raid in June 2006.

Senate passes Shalit resolution unanimously


The U.S. Senate unanimously called for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit just days after the fourth anniversary of his capture by Hamas.

The non-binding resolution passed June 28, initiated by U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio), demands that “Hamas immediately and unconditionally release Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit” and that the terrorist group allows “prompt access to the Israeli captives by competent medical personnel and representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.”

Gunmen affiliated with Hamas captured Shalit in a cross-border raid on June 25, 2006 after Israel had withdrawn from the territory, and have not allowed him Red Cross access.

“I am deeply troubled by the continued detention of Gilad Shalit by Hamas four years after his kidnapping, and I pray for his expeditious release and safe return to his family in Israel,” said Sen. Voinovich, who is retiring this year.

A similar resolution passed unanimously last week in the House of Representatives.

On the anniversary of Shalit’s capture, U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, pledged to keep the issue alive.

“Over the past three years, I’ve met and spoken with Gilad’s father, Noam, on a number of occasions,” she said in a statement.  “He has told me about the struggle to bring his son home, and I showed him his son’s symbolic dog tags displayed in my office – symbols of Gilad’s life and service, and our hopes for his survival and safe return.  When I traveled to Israel, I met with the entire Shalit family and loved ones of other missing soldiers.  Each time I go back to Israel and the Middle East, I take the dog tags with me, showing them to other leaders and pledging to never forget their story.”

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish public policy groups, lobbied hard for the resolutions.

Conservative movement launches Shalit campaign


The Conservative movement has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the captivity of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s youth and young adult services department has begun a Yellow Balloon campaign to mark the fourth anniversary of Shalit’s captivity. Shalit was captured in a cross-border raid on June 25, 2006 and reportedly is being held by the terrorist group Hamas in Gaza.

Participants can e-mail virtual yellow balloons that say “Bring Gilad Home” and draw attention to the campaign over Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites.  The campaign calls for the display of real yellow balloons in front of synagogues, affiliated organizations and private residences during the week of June 21 to show solidarity with Shalit.

The campaign urges people to write to their elected officials asking them to maintain pressure on the international community to free Shalit, and to write to his parents expressing support.

United Synagogue also is providing materials for information tables in synagogues and other settings, and is calling on people to “reserve a seat for Gilad” at synagogue on June 26, to recite a special prayer written by the Masorti movement—the Conservative movement in Israel—and to study the Jewish mandate to redeem captives.

“We know that it is only if the world is reminded of his plight that he stands any chance of being freed,” said Richard Moline, United Synagogue’s youth and young adult services director.

Hamas Gilad Schalit Cartoon (VIDEO): Animated video taunts Israel over captured soldier


From HuffingtonPost.com:

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip—Hamas released an animated film Sunday bearing a grisly message for Israel: If it doesn’t meet the Islamic militant group’s demands, an Israeli soldier it has held for nearly four years could return home in a coffin.

The short but sophisticated cartoon – which depicts Sgt. Gilad Schalit’s aging father wandering empty streets with a picture of his son and ends with the words “There is still hope” – is the latest product of Hamas’ growing media machine.

TV and radio stations controlled by the group continuously broadcast Hamas-produced songs and music videos threatening the Jewish state and rallying the group’s militant Islamic base.

Read the full article at HuffingtonPost.com.

Video on YouTube:

Noam Shalit: Contacts over kidnapped son are continuing


Noam Shalit, the father of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, confirmed to Haaretz yesterday that contacts to secure his son’s release are continuing and that the German negotiator and Israeli negotiator Hagai Hadas are still “working.”

He did not elaborate.

He also said he could not guarantee the reliability of a report in the London-based Arabic-language daily Al Hayat yesterday, which stated the German mediator visited the region two weeks ago and met with officials from Israel, Egypt and Hamas.

Over the weekend, Noam Shalit sent a letter to the head of the Hamas politburo, Khaled Meshal, on the occasion of Palestinian prisoners’ day, which was Saturday. In the letter, Shalit disclosed the latest proposal that the ministerial forum of seven had approved.

Read the full article at Haaretz.com.

Shalits reveal content of 2006 letter from Gilad


The family of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit has allowed public access to a letter he wrote just months after being taken captive by Palestinian militants in 2006.

The letter was handed over to Israel by Egyptian mediators in October 2006, four months after Shalit was seized in a cross-border raid.

Read the full story at HAARETZ.com.

Jewish Agency events mark Shalit birthday


Events marking the 23rd birthday of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit will be held around the United States on Friday.

The Jewish Agency for Israel is organizing about a dozen ceremonies to honor the soldier, who was taken captive in a cross-border raid at the Gaza-Israel border more than three years ago. He is believed to be alive and in captivity in Gaza. Shalit’s birthday is Aug. 28.

In Columbus, Ohio organizers will grant Shalit honorary citizenship. In San Francisco, a documentary on Shalit will be screened at the Jewish film festival. In Miami, children will release 1,000 balloons symbolizing the hope that he will be released soon.

“Participants at the events will be asked to sign post cards to the Red Cross asking that Shalit receive the full rights of an abducted soldier under international law and that the Red Cross work for the soldier’s release,” the Jewish Agency said in a news release on Monday.

In Israel, activists on behalf of Shalit marked his upcoming birthday by demonstrating Tuesday in front of two prisons in which Palestinians are incarcerated, disrupting family visits. Demonstrators have called on the Israeli government to withhold visitors to Hamas prisoners until Hamas allows the Red Cross to meet with Shalit.

G8 calls for release of Gilad Shalit


The Group of Eight leading industrialized nations called on Thursday for the immediately release of Gilad Shalit, after Egyptian-brokered talks to secure the kidnapped Israeli soldier’s release had come to a standstill.

The G8, meeting in Italy, also called for the immediate opening of the Gaza Strip’s border crossings to allow the entry of humanitarian aid, goods and people into the Hamas-ruled territory. The nations added that this move must not compromise Israel’s safety. Read the full story at HAARETZ.com.

Political realities may doom Olmert’s peace push


With his Kadima Party just weeks away from electing a new leader, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is making a concerted last-ditch effort to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Olmert has drawn up a detailed peace offer and presented it to U.S. and Palestinian leaders. After being shown the plan last week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described it as “very generous.”

Although the Palestinians say wide gaps remain, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Olmert reportedly agreed in talks Sunday to make every effort to wrap up a full-fledged peace agreement by the end of the year.

But both sides are skeptical.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, who are involved in a parallel negotiation that is conducting line-by-line drafting of a final-status agreement, estimate that the process could go on well into 2009 and beyond. They say the effort must be given all the time it needs.

Warning against the danger of rushing things, Livni said artificial deadlines could lead to frustration on the Palestinian side and spark a third intifada. Alternatively, time pressure could lead Israel to compromise on vital interests.

Right-wing opposition to the Olmert-Abbas talks go even further. Opposition leaders have questioned the very legitimacy of Olmert’s conducting a vigorous peace drive so close to the end of his term. Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu described Olmert’s peace plan as “morally and substantially flawed” and warned that it would strengthen Hamas.

There are problems on the Palestinian side, too.

Abbas’ term could end early next year, leaving the Palestinians with a more radical leadership before an agreement is finally wrapped up.

What’s worse is that as long as Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, the chances of implementing any Israeli-Palestinian peace deal are virtually zero.

Olmert’s latest proposal deals with four core issues: territory, security, refugees and Jerusalem.

On territory, he offers the Palestinians 93 percent of the West Bank, with Israel retaining large Jewish settlement blocs in the remaining 7 percent. As compensation, the Palestinians would get an area equivalent to 5.5 percent of the West Bank in Israeli land close to the Gaza Strip, and a land corridor connecting Gaza and the West Bank, linking the two in a single Palestinian state.

On security, Olmert proposes that the future Palestinian state would be demilitarized and barred from building military alliances. Israel would have early warning stations on the Samarian hills in the West Bank, a temporary army presence in the Jordan Valley, a presence at border crossings, control of airspace over Gaza and the West Bank, and access to the main east-west corridors in the West Bank.

On refugees, Olmert categorically rejects the so-called Palestinian right of return: Palestinian refugees would be entitled to return to the Palestinian state in unlimited numbers, but not to Israel proper. Still, there is a small concessionary loophole in the Olmert proposal: 1,500 to 2,000 Palestinians would be allowed to “return” to Israel proper every year for 10 years for “humanitarian reasons.” In other words Israel could, at its discretion, allow the immigration during 10 years of 15,000 to 20,000 Palestinians.

Although Olmert insists that Jerusalem has not been on the negotiating agenda — the Orthodox Shas Party has threatened to topple the government if Jerusalem is so much as discussed — the prime minister does include a temporary solution for the city in his proposal.

The final Israeli-Palestinian document would include reference to “a joint mechanism with a fixed timetable” for resolving the dispute over Jerusalem. Olmert aides refuse to elaborate but say there would be elements in the joint mechanism “attractive to the Palestinians.”

This apparently refers partly to an offer by Olmert to involve other Arab and international parties — including Jordan, Morocco, Egypt, the Vatican and the international Quartet grouping of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — in seeking a permanent solution for Jerusalem and its holy places.

The Palestinians, however, argue that Olmert’s proposals do not go far enough, and they insist that the gaps between the Israeli and Palestinian positions remain wide.

Some analysts suggest that the only realistic way forward would be through American bridging proposals. But the Americans are unlikely to be forthcoming: During a visit in June, when Rice asked for a paper highlighting key points of agreement and disagreement, both sides refused on the grounds that that kind of hands-on American intervention would not be helpful at this stage.

“We and the Israelis told Dr. Rice that the decisions are required from Palestinians and Israelis,” senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told JTA. “I am sure the Americans, the Arabs and the Europeans will stand shoulder to shoulder with us in order to implement whatever we agree. But the decisions are for Palestinians and Israelis.”

Officials close to Olmert argue that even if it can’t immediately be implemented, a joint Israeli-Palestinian document on permanent-status issues would constitute a historic breakthrough.

“We believe it would become a galvanizing point for all the moderates and offer an alternative to the Hamas-Hezbollah-Tehran paradigm,” Olmert spokesman Mark Regev said.

Regev believes that not only would the deal win wide international support and boost the moderates in the Arab world, it also would help resolve the problem of Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

“If we are successful in delineating to a great degree of specificity where the final borders will be, then obviously we will continue to build in the settlements on our side and not in those on the Palestinian side,” he said.

In other words, immediately upon signing the deal, Israel would regard settlements on its side of the border as part of Israel proper, with no extrinsic restrictions on development and growth. Those on the Palestinian side, by contrast, would be seen as living on borrowed time and slated for evacuation.

For any agreement to stand a chance of implementation, its advocates would have to find a way around Palestinian rejectionists — including Hamas in Gaza — and around Israeli opponents. In both cases, opponents may press for new elections, which would serve as a referendum on the peace deal.

That does not bode well for a peace deal. Hamas is unlikely to allow elections in Gaza unless it is sure of winning. On the Israeli side, polls suggest the right-wing opposition will win the next general election.

Should either of these likely scenarios occur, the “shelf agreement” the Olmert administration is working on probably would be shelved indefinitely. That would leave Olmert’s 11th-hour effort to set a new peace agenda, like many others before it, dead in the water of Middle Eastern realities.

Lebanon prisoner swap deal — morale issue forces a hard choice


The existential reality of an Israeli context, where governmental decisions often have a life and death valence, has been brought home to millions of people these past fewweeks, as the Israeli Cabinet made the agonizing decision to authorize the release of the murderer Samir Kuntar, four other live Lebanese prisoners and the bodies of dozens of Arab infiltrators and terrorists to Hezbollah in exchange for the bodies of abducted Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

The weight of responsibility placed upon the government and Cabinet in this instance — as in so many others — was surely awesome. While many have conceded that the decision of the Israeli government to allow this exchange was immeasurably painful, albeit necessary, others have been extremely critical of the governmental judgment to go ahead with this terribly imbalanced swap.

This decision involved no easy choice. However, as so many of us struggle with our thoughts and feelings as we reflect upon the action that Israel took in this episode, it is instructive to remember that this is not the first time Israel has unfortunately confronted this issue.

In 1985, the Jewish state faced the same heartbreaking and excruciating question. Israel had to decide whether to return 1,150 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners for the release of three Israeli soldiers. While the exchange never took place and the fate of the three Israeli POWs is still unknown, two prominent Israeli rabbis — Rabbi Shlomo Goren and Rabbi Haim David Halevi — addressed the issue directly at that time. Their words then have resonance and meaning today, as they provide important perspectives for reflecting upon the policy position the Israeli government adopted on this painful matter involving life and death.

Goren served as chief Ashkenazic rabbi of Israel and was formerly chief rabbi of the IDF, while Halevi was the chief Sephardic rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

Goren, in an article written on May 31, 1985, was straightforward in his response to this question. He stated that Jewish law absolutely forbade the Israeli government from redeeming “our captive soldiers in exchange for 1,150 terrorists” and based his ruling on a talmudic passage in Gittin 45a that stated, “Captives should not be redeemed for more than their value.” Goren emphasized his great distress at the personal plight of these captives — they were surely in “mortal danger.”

However, he still insisted that the state should not redeem them as such redemption in exchange for the release of known terrorists bent on the destruction of Israel and its Jewish population would surely imperil all Israeli citizenry and only fuel Arab attempts to capture more Jews in the future. The price exacted from Israel through the release of these terrorists was simply too steep for the state to afford.

Halevi responded to Goren soon after the article appeared. He was sympathetic to the position his Ashkenazic colleague had advanced in his piece. However, Halevi disagreed about the relevance of applying the Gittin passage to the contemporary situation.

In his view, the conditions that existed in a modern Jewish state were completely different from those that confronted the Jewish community in premodern times. The Jewish people were now sovereign in their land, and the “political-national” aims that motivated the terrorists “to wreak havoc among the Jewish people” would continue, regardless of whether their prisoners were released in exchange for Israeli soldiers. Indeed, these terrorists would persist in their cruel efforts until a solution to the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict was achieved.

The “impossible choice” before the government was whether to “strengthen the power of the terrorists through the release of their comrades or to strengthen the morale of IDF soldiers should there be future wars.” Faced with these two options, Halevi felt that priority had to be assigned the latter one — the Israeli government should do all in its power to uphold the morale of the IDF soldiers.

If a soldier knew that the government would spare no effort or expense to liberate a captured soldier, then the soldier might well fight more fearlessly in battle. On the other hand, if the soldier knew that his release from captivity did not possess the highest governmental priority and that the government would not act upon that priority, then the soldier might well retreat at a crucial wartime moment so as to avoid risking capture as a prisoner of war. In a moral universe where alternatives were limited, Halevi felt this choice was the wisest one the government could make.

In responding in this way to the existential reality of life and death choices faced by the State of Israel then, Halevi enunciated a position that provides the rationale for the decision the government of the State of Israel has made on the issue of prisoner exchange.

It is surely a policy fraught with danger. At the same time, it appears to be one that continues to legitimately guide Israel as the Jewish state continues to support its citizen-soldiers as they all too often confront an enemy bent on its destruction.

Rabbi David Ellenson is president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.<BR>

Get out of jail free


Candles in the wind


U.S. Jews mourn soldiers, pledge to fight for Shalit’s return


NEW YORK (JTA) — At the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School here, Rabbi Dov Linzer decided Wednesday that it would be inappropriate to start the day like any other given the news that the two Israeli soldiers abducted by Hezbollah in July 2006 were returned to Israel deceased.

Instead, Linzer passed around several media reports about the return of Israeli reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, effected in exchange for five Lebanese and the remains of some 200 Arab fighters.

The morning’s discussion eventually turned to the ethics of the exchange — a debate that has raged in Israel in recent weeks as the country has wrestled with the appropriateness of trading live terrorists for dead Israelis.

“Everybody really was struggling with it,” Linzer told JTA. “It wasn’t a black-and-white issue, even if people came out on one side or the other.”

The plight of Israel’s captive soldiers has galvanized the American Jewish community in ways that few Israel-related issues have in recent years. While the merits of the exchange were debated passionately at Chovevei and elsewhere Wednesday, Jewish groups that had worked for the soldiers’ release made no mention of the controversy surrounding their return.

Instead they expressed sympathy for the pain of the families, recognition of Israel’s difficult moral choices and a commitment to work toward the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured by Hamas in the summer of 2006 just a few days before Hezbollah’s attack.

“As we mourn Ehud and Eldad, let us redouble our efforts to seek the safe return of Gilad Shalit to his family,” Rabbi Steve Gutow, the executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, wrote in an e-mail message. “The blue bracelet with the names of all three soldiers will stay on my wrist until that blessed day comes. And let us keep all the other captive soldiers — Guy Hever, Zachary Baumel, Tzvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz, Ron Arad, Majdy Halabi — in our thoughts and prayers.”

Since their capture in cross-border raids two years ago, Shalit, Goldwasser and Regev have inspired broad action by American Jews. More than a dozen groups dedicated to securing their release were created on the popular social networking Web site Facebook, a rally for their release was held at the United Nations and a petition sent to the U.N. secretary-general garnered 150,000 signatures.

Concern for the three MIAs reached the highest echelons of the U.S. Congress, where House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) emerged as arguably the most vocal Washington lawmaker on the issue.



Last September, when I

No simple answer on return of Israeli POWs


In the summer of 2006, two Israeli soldiers — Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser — were abducted by Hezbollah. Israel reacted by launching a war against this Lebanon-based
terrorist organization. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared then that one of the main war aims was to return the two soldiers back home.

The war ended, and almost two years have passed, and the two soldiers are still in enemy hands. A third soldier, Gilad Shalit, was abducted by Hamas in Gaza about the same time. He is alive; his family has just received a brief letter from him.

Hamas is demanding that Israel free hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for his release. As for Regev and Goldwasser, we are not sure. The jeep they had been driving was hit so badly, almost burned down in the attack, and the scenes of the charred remains of the vehicle left little hope that the two soldiers had survived. Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, in the most cynical and vicious way, refused to give any hint about their fate.

On Sunday, the Israeli government decided to release Arab prisoners for the two soldiers, but the heated controversy is still going on.

Isn’t this a heavy price? Shouldn’t we condition that Arab prisoners be exchanged only for living POWs? And isn’t all this but an incentive for future blackmailing?

Let’s borrow a page from the history book.

Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great, was one of the greatest military commanders of the pre-Napoleonic era. In 1757, during the Seven Years War, he wrote a secret memorandum to his minister of interior on the eve of a decisive battle: “In the contingency that I become a prisoner of war, I forbid to make even the slightest concession to the enemy, and order to ignore anything I should write from captivity. If such unhappy event occurs, I want to sacrifice myself for my country. My brother will take the reins of power, and he and all his ministers will pay with their heads if they pay any ransom for me.”

Recently, several Israel Defense Forces officers in the reserves did the same. Upon being called to active duty, they sent a letter to the minister of defense and the chief of staff of the Israeli army stating that if they fall in enemy hands, they don’t want the government to pay any price for their release. Furthermore, they demanded that in case they become POWs, the government shouldn’t listen to their pleas, because obviously, they would be the result of their captors’ pressure.

All this is about living POWs. But what about dead ones? How far should a government go in order to bring a dead soldier to burial?

When it comes to Israel, the answer is never simple. According to Jewish religious law and tradition, burying the dead is a very sacred commandment. Furthermore, until a dead POW is buried, he is considered missing in action, leaving families in endless, agonizing doubt. If he was married, according to Jewish law, his wife is considered aguna (‘ ‘anchored”in marriage) and can’t remarry.

This is why in the case of Capt. Ron Arad, a jet fighter navigator who became POW in 1986 in Lebanon and has since disappeared, Israel went to great lengths to gain any shred of information about him. At one point, it was suspected that he was killed and buried anonymously in the Jewish cemetery in Damascus.

Ideas were floated to send an elite unit there with a helicopter to find out. Yet when Batya Arad, the mother of the missing navigator, heard about it, she adamantly refused: “I don’t want any soldier to risk his life for a dead body.”

So the debate rages on, touching sore nerves, with no clear-cut answers. It was Geula Cohen, who was a fighter in the prestate, anti-British underground Lehi (Stern Gang), who summed up the dilemma.

“If my son, Tzahi [Knesset member Tzahi Hanegbi, chairman of the Foreign Relations and Security Committee] were taken POW,”she said in one of the controversies over prisoner exchanges, “I would have fought like a lioness that the government should pay any price for his release.”

Then, with the same breath, she added: “And at the same time, I would have expected the government to firmly reject my demands.”

Uri Dromi is a columnist based in Jerusalem.