Shalit's captors sever links with Egyptian mediators [ii]

The kidnappers of Cpl. Gilad Shalit announced on Tuesday that they had severed links with the Egyptian mediators who were attempting to secure the soldier's release.
  • Previous 200 talkbacks. "Hamas representatives have broken off contact with members of the Egyptian delegation," said a Hamas official. Later, the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh called on the kidnappers of Gilad Shalit to spare the soldier's life. "The Palestinian government urges (the kidnappers) to keep the soldier alive and to ensure that he is treated well," said Haniyeh. Haniyeh added that negotiations were essential to ending the crisis. "We stress the need to continue with the diplomatic efforts and not to shut the door," said the PA Prime Minister. Meanwhile, despite an earlier vow not to release any new information about Shalit, a spokesman for one of the groups did indeed say that the soldier would not be killed. "There are those who believe we will kill the soldier, but the principles of Islam command us to treat prisoners with respect and not to kill them," he said, three hours after the ultimatum to release Palestinian prisoners, which was rejected by Israel, expired.
    Regardless of the seemingly futile Egyptian efforts to secure Shalit's release, the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper reported earlier on Tuesday that Israel and the Palestinians were close to an agreement over the kidnapped soldier. Reportedly, Shalit would be returned to Israel, via Egyptian or French mediators, in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Additionally, in exchange for the IDF halting its operations in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian organizations would apparently agree to stop rocket attacks on Israel. Meanwhile, according to government officials, Israel would continue its ongoing military operation against Hamas as if there were no ultimatum, and has warned key international players that the military action will be escalated if Shalit is killed. One senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said Monday that the IDF's ongoing military operation would not be impacted by the ultimatum. The ultimatum triggered warnings by various cabinet ministers of fierce Israeli action if Shalit were harmed. [For a Jerusalem Online video of events click here] "If, God forbid, they should hurt the soldier, our operations will be far worse," Justice Minister Haim Ramon told Channel 2. Interior Minister Roni Bar-On told Y-Net that "the kidnappers will pay a price they have not yet paid if they harm the soldier." In Moscow, meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, during a 90-minute meeting with Russian President Vladimr Putin that was dominated by this crisis, said there was a "potential for regional deterioration" unless the international community applied pressure "decisively and immediately." Similar messages, according to diplomatic officials, were passed on during the day to Washington and to various European capitals. Livni, according to sources in her office, said that Syrian President Bashar Assad and Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal were the main actors behind the scenes, and needed to be the focus of international pressure. Defense Minister Amir Peretz also continued shining the spotlight on Syria, telling a Labor faction meeting in the Knesset Monday, "We suggest that Assad, who is trying to operate with his eyes shut, open his eyes, because he is responsible. We will know how to strike those who are involved." Israeli intelligence officials said the ultimatum was likely issued Monday morning because the kidnappers feared they would be discovered and that the IDF would launch a hostage retrieval operation. Since Shalit's abduction last Sunday, the IDF has said he is in the Gaza Strip but has said it did not know his exact location. According to intelligence experts, the longer the standoff in Gaza continues, the easier it would be to locate the kidnappers and their hideaway. Livni, who spoke with Olmert before meeting Putin and is in close consultation with the prime minister, spoke at length about the agony of Shalit's family, the killing last week of Eliahu Asheri and the situation in Sderot. She also met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russia's Security Council head Igor Ivanov. During these talks, according to her office, Livni said that Israel had shown restraint up until now, but that it would "not put up with the situation much longer." Yaakov Katz and AP contributed to this report