Renewal of Schalit talks still lingering

Barak says Egypt central to freeing soldier, thanks Mubarak for curbing weapons smuggling into Gaza.

state-religion survey 224 (photo credit: )
state-religion survey 224
(photo credit: )
Negotiations for the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit were still at a standstill on Tuesday after Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Alexandria and was updated on Hamas's continued defiant position that has held up renewal of the talks, defense officials said. Barak flew to Alexandria early on Tuesday to urge Mubarak to use his power to convince Hamas to renew the negotiations on Schalit. Officials said following the meeting that despite Cairo's expressed readiness to make every effort to secure Schalit's release, Hamas's increasing demanded would likely continue to prevent renewal of the talks. Defense officials told The Jerusalem Post that while Schalit was one of the main issues raised during the conversation, Barak and Mubarak also spoke at length about the Iranian nuclear program and ways of cooperating to counter the threat. "The Egyptians are very concerned about what will happen to the region if Iran obtains a nuclear capability," one official explained. Mubarak updated Barak on the new American tech that Egyptians forces were using to detect smuggling tunnels under the Philadelpi Corridor between Sinai and the Gaza Strip. Barak told Mubarak that Schalit's release was one of Israel's chief goals and that he viewed Egypt as a central partner in those efforts. According to a statement released by the Defense Ministry, Barak also thanked Mubarak for his efforts in curbing weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip, but emphasized that more needed to be made. Barak also spoke at length with Mubarak and his intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, about the ongoing cease-fire with Hamas in Gaza and stressed that no violations, even sporadic ones, would not be tolerated by Israel. On Monday, Barak shut down the crossings into Gaza after two Kassam rockets were fired into Israel. Following the talks, Barak and Mubarak were joined for lunch by Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i, Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic-Security Bureau, Suleiman, Egyptian Defense Minister Muhammad Hussein Tantawi, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit and Israel's ambassador to Egypt, Shalom Cohen. Barak spoke with Mubarak two days before Schalit's 22nd birthday, his third in captivity. To mark the event, his friends, including his IDF commander, plan to hold a rally on Wednesday evening in Kibbutz Sufa by the Gaza border, near where he was kidnapped in June 2006. They will be joined by Minister-without-Portfolio Ami Ayalon (Labor) and Miki Goldwasser, whose son Ehud was killed by Hizbullah along with fellow reservist Eldad Regev in a botched kidnapping attempt in July 2006. On Thursday night Schalit's family will hold an event in their hometown of Mitzpe Hila in the Upper Galilee. A rally will also be held simultaneously in Tel Aviv, first next to the Defense Ministry and then in Kikar Rabin.