'No delay in deciding if captives KIA'

Ashkenazi rejects Olmert's request; Shlomo Goldwasser: Move pointless if there's a swap deal.

barak gaza border 224  (photo credit: Defense Ministry)
barak gaza border 224
(photo credit: Defense Ministry)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's request to delay the process of determining whether kidnapped soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev should be considered killed in action was rejected Wednesday by IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. Olmert had asked Ashkenazi to postpone the process at least until the Cabinet discusses the matter on Sunday, Goldwasser's father, Shlomo, said. However, Ashkenazi said the IDF chief rabbi works independently and he could therefore not be ordered to stop the process. Ashkenazi added, however, that naming the troops killed in action would take up to two weeks anyway, a point raised earlier by Shlomo Goldwasser. "Officially, the process has not been suspended, but it has been brought to my attention that de facto, the process has been suspended pending the ministers' decision," Goldwasser told Army Radio. "This also makes sense - there's no point in such a move if there is a deal." On Tuesday, Goldwasser's wife, Karnit, announced that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised that the deal with Hizbullah for release of the two reservists would be brought to the cabinet on Sunday. The Prime Minister's Office refused to confirm her report. Karnit spoke to the media after she presented Olmert with a letter from her lawyers demanding that the security cabinet meet to approve the deal, which includes the release of Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar. The lawyers also demanded that Olmert "immediately bring to the ministerial committee for discussion the agreements reached by Mr. [Ofer] Dekel on behalf of the state in the negotiations with Hizbullah through international intermediaries." The lawyers asked for a response within 48 hours and warned that if their demands were not met, they would take the matter to court. In an interview with Channel 1, Karnit hedged when asked if Olmert had promised to support the deal. She said: "He [Olmert] has always told me that he will do everything in his power to return them home. And this is the time for him to do it." During the meeting with Olmert, she said, "we explained our very minimal request to bring it to the cabinet. And I received from him a promise that he would." In the letter, addressed both to Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, she also insisted that until the meeting was held, the IDF should suspend deliberations, begun Monday night, to determine if her husband and Regev should be declared dead. There has been no sign of life from the two men since their capture in July 2006. The lawyers, Ariel Bendor, Eldad Yaniv and Sharon Stein, who also represent Gilad Schalit, held in Gaza, warned that the decision to investigate whether the two reservists should be declared dead "could prevent the return of Udi and Eldad to Israel." The lawyers charged that the government's decision to begin procedures to declare that Goldwasser and Regev were dead "is a change from everything that has been explained up until now and is not based on any new information of substance regarding their condition, is not required for any legitimate purpose and is tainted by extraneous considerations. "It also makes it impossible to hold a meaningful discussion in the ministerial committee on the [prisoner exchange] agreement that was reached recently." The lawyers also wrote a letter to Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and IDF Chief Rabbi Avihai Ronsky calling on them not to conduct an investigation to determine whether Goldwasser and Regev should be declared dead. The lawyers complained that the Goldwasser and Regev families were not being allowed to see the evidence on which the rabbis were supposed to make their decision. "Our clients insist on their right to see the various documents that are to be presented to the professional experts who are to examine the material, or at least to present their own case through their own experts. "Alternatively, our clients will demand the establishment of an independent group to examine the evidence." Earlier Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel was obligated to recover the missing soldiers even if they are dead. Speaking during a tour of Gaza-periphery communities, Barak said the process of declaring the soldiers killed in action should not have any bearing on talks on a deal with Hizbullah. "We have a responsibility to bring the kidnapped soldiers home even if they are dead," he said. "Even if the process of pronouncing them dead, which has begun, is concluded, it will not stop the debate on the deal." But Ehud Goldwasser's mother, Miki, told The Jerusalem Post the question of whether the two men were alive or dead was so critical to the deal that she feared it had been harmed just by raising the question. "I just pray that no damage was done," she said. "There is no reason [to declare them dead]. There is no new information. There is nothing [they know now] that we did not know from the very beginning," she said. On Tuesday night, at a rally organized to support the release of Goldwasser, Regev and Schalit, a friend of Ehud Goldwasser's offered his own form of proof that the two men could still be alive. In the dark, under the blare of the television lights outside Olmert's Jerusalem home, Miki Leibowich asked the prime minister to imagine those last minutes in their armored vehicle on July 12, 2006. Imagine that as it is hit and bursts into flames, a wounded and bloodied soldiers makes his way out. That soldier was not Goldwasser or Eldad Regev, but Tomer Weinberg, who was with the two men. "But Tomer is alive and breathing," even though he did not receive medical help for an hour and a half. If he had he been kidnapped, we might now be thinking of declaring him dead," said Leibowich. Looking at Weinberg standing next to him wearing jeans and a black shirt, Leibowich warned the crowd not to be swayed by a political spin into believing that the two men could be dead. "Our friends are not political pawns, they are real people," he said. On Sunday and Monday the Goldwasser and Regev families were in Jerusalem lobbying cabinet ministers to support the deal. Miki said she believed that they had gained their support. "I simply pray to return to my regular life with my sons and to put these horrible two years behind us," she said.