Prior to cabinet meeting, captive's father delivered letter to Olmert in last minute plea for swap deal.
By JPOST.COM STAFF, TOVAH LAZAROFFPublished: MARCH 17, 2009 08:17Advertisement
Following a meeting on Tuesday evening with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Noam Schalit, father of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad, told reporters that he still held hope that the government would be able to secure the release of his son.
"The prime minister briefed us on everything which has taken place up until now," Schalit said after he exited the premier's Jerusalem residence. "We received a number of clarifications and explanations [for the current status of the talks]."
"The prime minister will continue [negotiations], and is not throwing up his hands," he said. "It will continue until the very last moment, and we hope that there will be a slight increase in effort - in the hopes that, despite the brief amount of time left in this current government, we'll be able to secure a [breakthrough] so that we'll be able to see Gilad back home."
When asked if he felt disappointed with what was said during his meeting with Olmert, Schalit brushed off the question.
"Disappointment, feelings, all of this is not relevant," Schalit said. "What is important is action."
Before his meeting with the premier, the father of the kidnapped soldier expressed a brief, but very pessimistic opinion of the outcome of Tuesday's special cabinet meeting, saying flatly that Olmert had failed to bring back his son.
Earlier, immediately prior to the meeting, Schalit delivered a letter to the premier begging him not to abandon him son.
"You bear full responsibility for fulfilling the covenant between the IDF and the state that a solider will not be abandoned in captivity to a family that sent its son to the army with the knowledge of this commitment," read the letter. "We urge youâ€¦despite the heavy price required, bring Gilad back before the end of your term."
"I am turning to you one last time with a call from the heart of my family waiting for its son imprisoned in the cellars of Hamas," read the letter. "With this letter, I beg you to save my son."
The letter was passed to Olmert shortly after Noam and his wife Aviva were briefed by senior negotiator Ofer Dekel.
After the early afternoon meeting, Noam Schalit put on brave face, saying merely that "we were updated on the developments, we will now examine the material and consider our next move."
Noam said that the family would remain in the protest tent outside the prime minister's Jerusalem residence, as planned, until the end of Olmert's time in office. Visitors to the tent Tuesday included former minister and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Ami Ayalon and Zvi Regev, father of reservist Eldad Regev, whose body was returned in a prisoner swap with Hizbullah last year.
As news spread Monday night that talks in Cairo over the captured soldier's release had hit a snag, the disappointment in the tent was palpable, and Noam Schalit left almost immediately after he heard of the failed negotiation efforts.
His friend and neighbor from his hometown of Mitzpe Hila in the upper Galilee Shimshon Leibman said that from the start Noam had tried not to be overly optimistic. It has been close to 1,000 days since Gilad was kidnapped and there have been a lot of ups and downs since then, Liebman said.
Both he and Hezi Mashita, who heads the Campaign to Free Gilad, said they had not given up and planned to hold a rally outside the Prime Minister's Office during the cabinet meeting.
"We are worried, but we still want to see Gilad return before Olmert leaves office," said Mashita.
As he sat on a folding chair in the cold night under the white tent set up on the sidewalk, Yoel Schalit told the Post that it had been hard to wait one more day to hear news of the deal.
"There is a lot of expectation, stress and uncertainty," he said. "But if today's efforts bring about Gilad's release, we will accept it."
If there is a deal, he said, he called on the cabinet to accept it and free his brother. "I want them to fulfill their obligation to a soldier they sent on a mission," he said.
He added that his brother's life was in danger every day that he remained in captivity, and said it was also harmful to Israeli society because it betrayed a basic tenet that says a soldier should never be left behind on the battlefield.
In the nine days since the Schalit family set up the protest tent, thousands of Israelis have streamed through to offer support and call for the young man's release. Relatives of terror victims have also said they wanted Schalit home. Older teens have said that if the government failed to strike a deal, it would impact their loyalty to the IDF.
But not everyone agreed that freeing prisoners guilty of serious crimes was the way to go.
Among those calling on the government not to release terrorists with blood on their hands was MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union).
"Anyone who is ready to say that he demands the release of Gilad Schalit at any price is irresponsible," said Eldad, who warned that the 450 terrorists would turn around and kill thousands of Israelis.
"Are we ready to pay with the blood of our children?" he asked.
Eldad added that if the deal goes through, hospitals should be put on alert. "We are going to have to prepare burying lots in our graveyards to absorb all those who will be killed," he said.
Those who support the deal and who have visited the Schalits in their protest tent should be prepared to pay a visit to the families who will lose their loved ones in new terror attacks, he added.
Across the street from the tent, Almagor, the terror victim association that has opposed the move, continued its mostly solitary vigil to protest the deal.
It has said that 180 Israelis have already been killed by terrorists released in past deals. If there is a deal, it said, it is considering a petition to the High Court of Justice to block the cabinet from voting on the swap.
Among the few who stood in Almagor's tent on Monday was Swery Zion, who lost his son Doron, 21, and his daughter Sharon , 24, in a terror attack in 2001. Sharon's husband Yaniv, 25, was also killed in that attack.
"I felt that I had to come to scream against this deal," Zion said.
The issue here is not revenge, he said. Nor did he oppose the release of Gilad by other means. "I just want to prevent another disaster."
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