Families ask EU to condition Lebanon aid on soldiers' release.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday appointed former Shin Bet deputy chief Ofer Dekel to spearhead efforts to bring about the return of kidnapped soldiers Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.
Dekel was a paratrooper, joined the Shin Bet in 1975 and retired in 2005 after he was not appointed its head. In a parting interview with Yediot Aharonot in June 2005, seven months before the Palestinian Authority election, he said Israel would eventually negotiate with Hamas. His name surfaced recently as a candidate for police inspector-general.
Goldwasser's wife Karnit praised the appointment and said it was important that she had someone to turn to who would be in charge of returning her husband home. But sources among the three families said they were disappointed that Dekel was not given a staff.
Olmert promised the families when he met with them on Sunday that he would appoint a senior official to conduct negotiations to bring the soldiers home. The appointment was seen as an attempt to show the families that Olmert was putting the issue at the forefront of his priorities, even though the IDF would pull out from Lebanon without their return.
Olmert reiterated in his Knesset speech that he would work on the soldiers' behalf. Defense Minister Amir Peretz met with the Goldwasser and Regev families at the Knesset on Monday and told them that he would consider the war unfinished until the kidnapped soldiers returned home. MK Zevulun Orlev (National Union-National Religious Party) formed a parliamentary caucus for the return of the soldiers.
The family members also met with a representative of the European Union and called upon him to condition EU funds to Lebanon on the soldiers' return. They sent a strongly-worded letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the presidents of UN member states complaining about the Red Cross's failure to obtain information about the soldiers and issuing the same demand.
"We believe it would be irresponsible for the nations of the world to give money for reconstruction to a government that has not been granted custody of Israeli soldiers from Hizbullah, a terrorist organization operation in its midst," the family members wrote in the letter.
The cease-fire resolution calls for the unconditional return of the soldiers, though the call is made in the non-binding preparatory paragraphs. The family members wrote in the letter that they were upset that the resolution did not provide a mechanism for obtaining the soldiers' release.
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