Israel: Schalit inseparable from truce

Earlier Saturday, Arab paper claims Cairo convinced Israeli negotiator to drop demand for captive soldier.

Gilad Schalit 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Gilad Schalit 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit is "inseparable" from any truce agreement between Israel and Hamas, an aide to Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Saturday evening. His comments came shortly after Hamas Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh declared that Schalit "is not part of the truce talks. This is a separate issue." Haniyeh conditioned Schalit's release on Israel's willingness to release Palestinian prisoners, saying, "If Israel is willing to advance the issue, no Palestinian would object." Despite the seemingly unbridgeable gap between the two sides' positions, the Egyptian-mediated truce talks are continuing, and "Israel is now waiting to hear the Egyptian's reply," Barak's aide said. Hamas representatives from Gaza and Damascus will make their way to Cairo to meet with Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, as the indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas continue, Israel Radio reported. On Thursday, Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Security-Diplomatic Bureau, traveled to Cairo where he held a two-hour meeting with Suleiman. The London-based A-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper reported on Saturday that Suleiman had succeeded in convincing Israel that Schalit should not be included in any cease-fire declaration. Israeli officials denied that report. A truce in the near future was still a real possibility, Barak's aide insisted. Senior Hamas member Mahmoud al-Zahar appeared to concur. "The cease-fire can begin very soon," within two weeks, he said. On the ground, however, there was no hint of a cease-fire, as the Israel Air Force struck an armed cell of Palestinian terrorists near the Gaza border fence, in the Beit Hanun region. Sources in Gaza did not provide any information on casualties. According to security analyst Gen. (Res.) Yaakov Amidror, Hamas stands to benefit far more than Israel from a lull in the fighting. "Hamas very much needs a cease-fire; it needs calm to consolidate its control in Gaza and ensure that its victory in the battle against Fatah is complete," he explained. "Militarily speaking, Hamas needs time to better prepare for war against us." On an international level, "a cease-fire will earn Hamas international legitimacy. We have, for years, attempted to build a wall of illegitimacy around Hamas. This will collapse the minute there is a direct or indirect agreement. And we won't be able to complain about anyone else having relations with Hamas," Amidror said. In addition, "PA President Mahmoud Abbas would be more likely to partner with Hamas after a cease-fire with Israel," he said. If Israel does agree to a cease-fire before securing Schalit's release, the result would be a situation in which "Hamas would face no pressure to release him. Israel would give up on its ability to obtain Schalit unless it surrenders to Hamas's demands… during a cease-fire, no [rescue] operations would be possible," he said. "In the long run, we will have to fight against Hamas. There is no doubt that a truce would help it much more than Israel."