Hamas: Schalit ball in Israel's court

German officials concerned by soldier's fate but will "neither confirm nor deny" mediation in negotiations.

By BENJAMIN WEINTHAL IN BERLIN, JPOST.COM STAFF
August 26, 2009 20:10
2 minute read.
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gilad schalit 248 88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Hamas is waiting for an answer from Israel on a possible deal to free captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, senior Hamas leader Osama Hamdan was quoted as saying Thursday. In an interview with a German news agency cited by Israel Radio, Hamdan said that Hamas had faith in the German mediation effort. He added that between three and five German mediators were going back and forth between Hamas and Israeli contacts, in an attempt to secure a prisoner exchange deal. The Hamas comments came a day after a spokesman for German chancellor Angela Merkel told The Jerusalem that Germany would "neither confirm nor deny" involvement in the mediation. Merkel was set to meet with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Thursday to discuss a range of issues, including the Middle East peace process. Asked about the possible involvement of Ernst Uhrlau, the head of Germany's foreign intelligence agency (BND), in efforts to free Schalit, Klaus Vater, a spokesperson for the chancellor's office, said: "Although I would like to answer your question, I must hold off with respect to this point. Such operational things will not be spread here from a government spokesman. There are good reasons for not spreading such things." Foreign Ministry spokesperson Andreas Peschke added, "The fact is that we are following the fate of Gilad Schalit with great concern and have strongly appealed to his kidnappers to release him as quickly as possible. His martyrdom has already lasted too long." However Israel's ambassador in Berlin, Yoram Ben Ze'ev, spoke of the German involvement in mediation efforts to secure Schalit's release in an interview with Army Radio on Wednesday afternoon. "They have always been a reliable and trustworthy partner that wants to help Israel on various issues, including this one," he said. Amid speculation of an impending deal, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday night that Israel would continue to work to secure the captured soldier's freedom as soon as possible, but "not at any cost." According to Arab media reports, Ahmed Ja'abri, commander of Hamas's military wing, traveled to Cairo on Wednesday to join the Hamas delegation headed by Mahmoud Zahar for talks expected to center on an upcoming prisoner swap agreement. Further reports claimed that the two senior Hamas leaders traveled to Syria on Thursday. The last time Ja'abri was in Egypt for negotiations was at the end of Ehud Olmert's term in office, when the two sides reportedly came close to a prisoner exchange deal. Meanwhile, a Lebanese Web site considered close to the Beirut administration quoted a European source as saying that the Schalit deal might take place before the High Holidays, which begin on September 18. According to the report, Syria, Sudan and other countries have agreed to receive prisoners whom Israel wants barred from the West Bank. The report has not been confirmed by Israel or Hamas. Also on Wednesday, speaking to the Post, Schalit's father Noam denied media reports that he had met with Hagai Hadas, the Prime Minister's Office special envoy in charge of the negotiations for Gilad's release. He declined further comment. Tovah Lazaroff and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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