Norway visit by Beilin, Schalit may caused tape

The videotape that broadcast the first sign of life from IDF Cpl. Gilad Schalit to his family last month, may have come as a result of a secret trip to Norway made by Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin and Gilad's father Noam Schalit. The two acknowledged Tuesday that they made the trip four days before the tape's release and met with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store. During their meeting, the two requested that Store contact the Hamas leadership and pressure the organization to allow a Western envoy to meet with the kidnapped soldier to assess his medical condition. Two days after the meeting, Norway's ambassador to Damascus met with Syria-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, who reportedly rejected the request but told the ambassador that Schalit was in good health and promised to release a sign of life. A day later, the recording of Schalit's voice was released. Neither Beilin nor Schalit could confirm whether the meeting led directly to the tape's distribution, but both stressed the importance of meetings with foreign leaders. Beilin also said that while Hamas was intent on negotiating via the Egyptians, he believed they would negotiate through other parties, as well. The tape, which was released shortly after Schalit's 20th birthday, called on the Israeli government to meet Palestinian demands for a large-scale prisoner swap, with Schalit stressing "especially as I was part of a military operation under military orders and I was not a drug dealer." This statement was interpreted as a reference to Elhanan Tannenbaum, who was abducted by Hizbullah and released as part of a prisoner exchange deal in 2004 and subsequently admitted that he had left Israel for a drug deal. "Just as I have parents, a mom and dad, the thousands of Palestinian prisoners also have mothers and fathers whose children must be returned to them," he said. "I have great hope that my government will take more interest in me, and respond to the demands of the Mujahedeen (captors)."