carter schalit 224.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
A letter written by kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit to his parents was transferred to them by Hamas on Monday via the Carter Center in Ramallah, a day ahead of a crucial meeting Tuesday to weigh Israel's options in the face of a recent string of deadly Hamas rocket attacks on the western Negev.
"I am in bad health; I dream of the day when I will return home," Army Radio quoted from the letter. "I hope to return soon and demand that the government not abandon me."
Defense officials said Monday night that Defense Minister Ehud Barak would push at the meeting - which will follow the weekly cabinet meeting and also be attended by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin - for a "medium-level military operation" in Gaza before agreeing to an Egyptian-brokered truce with Hamas.
The letter released by Hamas from Schalit was the third Schalit has sent to his parents since his abduction in June 2006. Hamas released the letter as part of a promise it gave former US president Jimmy Carter during a meeting in April. The Carter Center said the letter arrived at its Ramallah office on Sunday and was delivered to Schalit's parents, Noam and Aviva, swiftly.
Double click below to watch clip with voice recording of Schalit released by Hamas a year ago:
Gilad's father Noam confirmed receiving a letter from his son. Although he would not divulge many details of its contents, he did say that it included a plea to Israeli leaders to save his life by carrying out a prisoner swap with Hamas.
He added that the letter was written in his son's handwriting, and several details mentioned in it referred to recent events, seemingly confirming its authenticity and relevance.
Channel 10 reported Monday night that Hamas would allow Schalit's parents to send a letter back to him, once again with the help of the Carter Center.
Noam told The Jerusalem Post that the letter was not connected in any way to a deal to release his son. Israeli officials have told him that to date, talks on such a deal are at an impasse. "I hear that everything is stuck," he said.
At Tuesday's meeting, Barak plans to ask Olmert to approve an operation that would make Hamas "pay a price" and only afterwards agree to a cease-fire, defense officials said.
Underlying the growing sense of urgency is the recent rise in Israeli fatalities. Last week 51-year-old Amnon Rozenberg, who was killed outside a factory in Kibbutz Nir Oz, became the third Israeli to be killed in mortar attacks in the last month.
The officials said that Hamas had told Egypt that it would accept Israel's two-stage cease-fire proposal under which Schalit would be released in the second stage. The first stage is a cessation of Hamas terror activity and IDF operations and the second stage is the lifting of the blockade on Gaza in exchange for Schalit's release.
There is a clear majority in the security cabinet for a stepped up IDF response and the forum has already authorized Olmert, in coordination with Barak and Livni, to take the necessary decisions to restore quiet in the South.
MK Shai Hermesh (Kadima) told the Post he has been pressuring officials "very hard in every direction" against a truce with Hamas and urging them to opt for a military solution that stops the rockets and mortar shells once and for all.
Most people in the area were against a truce because the last thing that was needed was the kind of temporary solution it offered, said Hermesh, who lives in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, where mortar shells last month killed member Jimmy Kedoshim.
"We want a permanent solution because we are not living here temporarily," said Hermesh.
Barak, who knew how to rescue the hostages in Entebbe and to execute other daring military operations, must surely know how to stop the Kassam and mortar fire, he said.
The only reason he had not done so was that he was worried about the impact of a large-scale military operation on future elections, he charged.
Kfar Aza resident Varda Goldstein said she agreed with Hermesh. "We cannot live in this situation of uncertainty for one more day. Seven years is enough," she said.
The tension on the Gaza front is likely to feature prominently in the discussions held by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is due in Israel on Saturday night.
Rice will join the heads of final status negotiating teams, Livni and Ahmed Qurei, for a tripartite meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday.
The aim is to assess progress towards clinching a framework agreement by the end of year. Almost seven months after the re-launch of the peace process, the Bush administration is eager to see concrete signs of progress.
Israeli officials have downplayed the significance of the fact that the sides are putting in writing areas of agreement and disagreement that have emerged in the talks to date. The officials stressed that the three-way meeting on Sunday does not imply that Rice is bringing bridging proposals of her own.
According to the officials, the Americans would not present bridging proposals without prior coordination with the sides. Israel is not seeking third party intervention at this stage, believing that a deal will only be achieved if both sides are willing to compromise in the ongoing bilateral discussions.