ovadia yosef schalit 248.88.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef prayed Monday for the safe return of St. Sgt. Gilad Schalit during a meeting in Jerusalem with Gilad's father and grandfather.
Immediately after morning prayers at the rabbi's Har-Nof residence, Yosef blessed Gilad - who was captured at Kerem Hashalom on the Gaza border on June 25, 2006 - and prayed for his safe return.
"May the Almighty, blessed be He, bless all IDF soldiers on the front and also Gilad... May He save Gilad from those evil people."
Gilad's father Noam Schalit said after the meeting, "I hope that the support of the rabbi will help now at a time when the issue is still in the public's consciousness."
In addition to the Schalits, Shas chairman Eli Yishai and Communications Minister Ariel Attias were present at the meeting.
Yishai refused to say whether Shas supported the release of Palestinian terrorists in exchange for Schalit during a press conference after the meeting.
He said that unnecessary talk on the subject would only raise the price paid by Israel to free Schalit. Yishai added that every effort should be made to free Schalit before the elections and that every minute that went by risked the soldier's life.
Despite Yishai's unwillingness to commit Shas to supporting a prisoner swap, Roi Lachmanovitch, Shas's spokesman, said after the meeting that his party favored in principle freeing terrorists for Schalit.
"There is currently no concrete plan for a prisoner swap, but we are committed to the principle of exchanging terrorists for kidnapped soldiers," he said.
Yosef, considered one of the most important and innovative living halachic authorities, has a long history of supporting prisoner swaps.
The most recent case was his support in June, 2008, for the release of five Lebanese terrorists and the remains of 199 Lebanese fighters in exchange for the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.
The five terrorists included Samir Kuntar, who was convicted of killing an Israeli police officer, shooting dead a 28-year-old man and killing his 4-year-old daughter by bludgeoning her in the head in 1979.
This was the first time he backed the release of terrorists in exchange for bodies.
Yosef first expressed his support in principle for prisoner swaps over three decades ago when he served as chief Sephardi rabbi.
During the 1976 Entebbe hostage crisis he ruled that Jewish law permitted freeing Palestinian terrorists, including those guilty of murder, to secure the release of the kidnapped Israelis and Jews. A successful IDF commando operation ended up preempting the hostage swap.
David Yosef, the Shas mentor's son, said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post last year that his father also supported the May 1985 Jibril deal in which Israel released 1,150 Palestinian terrorists, including Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, in exchange for three Israeli POWs.
Critics of the deal said it sparked the first intifada, which began two years later, and encouraged Palestinians to perpetrate additional kidnappings.
But Yosef argued that the immediate danger to the Jewish hostages overruled the potential danger of future terrorist attacks.