ehud barak 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
This is not the time to "preach morality," Defense Minister Ehud Barak stressed Wednesday, as he said for the second day in a row that he would not pay "any price" for the return of captive soldier Gilad Schalit.
It was good that Schalit had touched thousands of hearts and inspired hundreds of volunteers, said Barak. But he added, "I will not accept the incitement or cultivation of divisiveness. There is no place to hand out grades or to preach morality."
He spoke at a ceremony in the Tel Nof army base, as rumors continue to circulate in the Arab media that a deal that would exchange Schalit for at least 450 Hamas prisoners had been finalized.
Schalit has been held captive by Hamas in Gaza for over three years.
On Wednesday, Israel Radio reported that nine Hamas parliament members were released after they completed their term of 40 months. Among them was senior Hamas operative Yasser Mansour from Nablus. Some 20 Hamas parliament members are still in jail.
The Defense Ministry said that no deal had been finalized for Schalit's release and added that it would not discuss any other details of the negotiations.
Earlier in the day, at a special event at the Ashdod port for his son, Noam Schalit said that what was needed here was "more action" and "less talk."
"I am telling everyone today, ahead of Rosh Hashana and the High Holy Days, that Gilad should have been home already, and he should return before it is too late. Anyone who thinks I am wrong should correct me," he said.
He did not comment on statements Barak had made on Tuesday, in which the defense minister told an 11th grade pupil in the South not to "whine" or to doubt the state's direction or commitment to Schalit.
The pupil had asked Barak what would happen to him, if like Schalit he were kidnapped while serving in the IDF. Barak responded by stating that "the state cannot even guarantee your life when you're in the army."
The Campaign to Free Gilad issued a sharp response in which it stated, "We're not whining, we're fighting for Gilad's life." Barak's words were very serious, given that he said them in front of high school students, the Campaign said. Three years after the kidnapping, it would have expected Barak to act like a leader, the group said in its statement.
On Friday, it plans to hold a protest in front of Barak's home in Tel Aviv. Members will be joined by reservists, parents and pre-army teens.
But on Wednesday, in spite of such criticism, Barak took the same tone when speaking with soldiers at the Tel Nof Base.
"Soldiers are inducted with the knowledge that their devotion to their mission includes their willingness to sacrifice themselves," said Barak.
"I'm obliged to tell the truth. Yes, we have a moral responsibility toward Gilad Schalit. I have said, and I will repeat it again: We are doing everything within our power to return him to his family. But not at any price," said the defense minister. Pausing, he repeated: "Not at any price," then added, "There is no day or night that we do not deal with Gilad," but warned "we should not get stuck making empty promises."
Barak and Noam Schalit are expected to attend the same conference in Herzliya on Sunday.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.