(photo credit: AP)
"Israel is conducting negotiations to secure the release of the captured IDF soldiers in an amateurish way," senior foreign diplomats said Tuesday.
One of the diplomats told Channel Two that when he and other members of a delegation met with Syrian-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, he asked them on whose behalf they were speaking. When they replied that they represented the Israelis, Mashaal remarked that everyone who had come to speak to him had said the same thing.
"Negotiations should not be conducted in this way, through multiple channels," said the diplomat.
On Saturday there were reports that former Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency) deputy chief Ofer Dekel spoke with security prisoners to pave the way for a prisoner exchange with Hizbullah and Hamas
An official in the Prime Minister's Office denied that Dekel, the prime minister's appointee for dealings regarding kidnapped soldiers and other captives, met with Lebanese prisoner Samir Kuntar. Kuntar, according to the report in the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, said there was real progress on a deal to release the kidnapped soldiers.
Also Monday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy accused Hizbullah of carrying out terrorist acts, another sign of a shift in France's Middle East policy since his election in May.
He spoke during a meeting with the families of three captured soldiers and days before France hosts a conference for Lebanon's feuding factions.
Sarkozy said France's goal was for the group to "renounce terrorist acts and become a political party almost like any other," said David Martinon, Sarkozy's spokesman.
Family members of the IDF soldiers - Gilad Schalit, Goldwasser and Regev - met with Sarkozy and members of France's Jewish community at the presidential Elysee Palace. France is involved because Schalit has dual French-Israeli citizenship.
The families urged Sarkozy to use France's contacts in the Arab world to press for their release. Sarkozy told them that he had already raised the matter with Arab leaders, including the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, Martinon said.
France is organizing a conference this weekend of representatives of 14 Lebanese factions in Paris to try to end the country's deepening political crisis. Hizbullah is expected to be represented, and French officials will raise the matter of the captive soldiers with the group, said Martinon.
"Hizbullah's trip to Paris will be the opportunity to pass the message on to its representatives," Martinon said, adding that Sarkozy himself will not meet them.
Noam Schalit, Gilad Schalit's father, said he sensed that Sarkozy was devoting more energy to the case than Chirac did.
"He promised us that he's doing all the efforts he can in this matter," Noam Schalit said in English after the meeting. "He considers my son as a French citizen as well as an Israeli soldier."
"Only by talking can we do good things - we ask them to talk," said Goldwasser's wife, Karnit.
Mark Weiss contributed to this report