'German mediator to relay Hamas answer'

Head of Campaign to Free Gilad Schalit says group's response expected this week.

By BY HERB KEINON,
February 3, 2010 02:25
3 minute read.
Netanyahu Berlusconi 311

Netanyahu Berlusconi 311. (photo credit: GPO)

 
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Shimshon Livman, who is leading the public campaign to free captive IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, said on Wednesday that the German mediator in prisoner exchange talks to secure Schalit's release was expected the arrive in Israel this week to relay Hamas's response to Israel's latest proposal.

"I have no indication what the answer will be," Livman told Army Radio, "We can only say we know things are being done, and it appears that they are moving towards a decision."

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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in a rare public pronouncement on the kidnapped soldier, said Tuesday during a press conference with visiting Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that the ball is squarely in Hamas’s court.

“We have an objective, and that is to bring Gilad Schalit home safe and sound. And we have a second objective, which is tied up with the first, and that is to do it in a way that will not enable murderous terrorists – in the event that they will be released from prison – to return and kill the country’s citizens, not in Judea and Samaria, and not via Judea and Samaria in the cites in Israel,” Netanyahu said.

He said these two goals were combined in a response delivered to Hamas through the German mediator a number of weeks ago. “If Hamas wants a deal, there will be one. If it doesn’t, there won’t be. The decision is in their hands,” the prime minister said.

Schalit has been held by Hamas in Gaza since he was kidnapped just outside the Strip in June 2006. This December it appeared that a deal to swap Schalit for Palestinian security prisoners was imminent.

Negotiations, however, have continued to drag on without a resolution.

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Earlier on Tuesday, Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar blamed Netanyahu for foiling talks to swap prisoners for Schalit, during a video interview he held with the BBC.

“As regarding negotiations, as of now the process has failed. The main cause, well-known to everybody, well-known to the mediator, is that after the interference of the political element, after the appearance of Netanyahu personally, there was a big regression and retraction. For this reason negotiations have now stopped,” Zahar told the BBC.

“We are looking to set free our people and also to give a chance for the family of the Israeli soldier to live as a human being also. We demanded a considerable number of prisoners, but the Israeli side, after hundreds of rounds of talks, reached backward too much,” he said.

Shimshon Liebman, who leads the Campaign to Free Gilad Schalit, said that as far as he knew Israel had sent an answer to Hamas through the German mediator, and had yet to hear a response.

“We believe that [Netanyahu] intends to finish this matter,” Liebman said.

He added that Hamas had acted with cynicism toward its own people, who have suffered for four years because it failed to reach an agreement with Israel.

“The time has come that the [people in Gaza] will say something about this,” Liebman said.

Activists in support of Schalit blocked the Karni border crossing on Tuesday morning, preventing the access of 10 containers carrying fuel to Gaza.

The containers were diverted to the Kerem Shalom terminal, and the activists – from the Kibbutz Movement – followed the trucks to try to prevent the delivery.

Protest organizer Yoel Marshak said the activists intended to stop the entry of fuel to Gaza so long as Israel received no information on Schalit’s condition.

Border Police forces cleared away the protesters, eventually allowing the trucks through at Kerem Shalom.

The Free Gilad Schalit Campaign expressed satisfaction that the activists managed to delayed the delivery for several hours.

“We are giving a message to Hamas and to the Israeli government – the Israeli people are capable of getting up and doing something,” read a campaign statement. “We don’t have a smidgen of information about Gilad’s fate. He is on the way to becoming a second Ron Arad.”

Marshak said that the campaign intended to continue to hinder Israel’s humanitarian gestures to the Gaza Strip. “It’s unacceptable that we just give and get nothing in return,” he said.

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.   

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