'We won't do Schalit deal at any cost'

Barak responds to prisoner swap speculation, while Noam Schalit denies meeting special envoy Hadas.

Mahmoud Zahar 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
Mahmoud Zahar 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Amid more speculation about an impending deal for the release of Gilad Schalit, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Wednesday night that Israel would continue to work to secure the captured IDF soldier's freedom as soon as possible, but "not at any cost." "The state of Israel remains committed to bringing Gilad home alive and well," Army Radio quoted him as saying. According to Arab media reports, Ahmed Ja'abri, commander of the Hamas military wing, traveled to Cairo on Wednesday to join the Hamas delegation headed by Mahmoud Zahar for talks widely expected to be about an upcoming prisoner swap agreement. The last time Ja'abri was in Egypt for talks was at the end of former prime minister Ehud Olmert's time in office, when the two sides came close to a prisoner exchange deal. Meanwhile, a Lebanese Web site considered close to the Beirut administration quoted a European source as saying that the Schalit deal might take place before the High Holidays, which begin toward the end of September. According to the report, Syria, Sudan and other countries have agreed to receive prisoners who Israel wants barred from returning to the West Bank. The report has not been confirmed by Israel or Hamas. Also on Wednesday, speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Gilad Schalit's father, Noam, denied media reports that he had met with Hagai Hadas, the Prime Minister's Office's special envoy in charge of the negotiations for Gilad's release. In addition, a Palestinian Web site affiliated with the Islamic Jihad reported that Ernst Uhrlau, head of German Foreign Intelligence (BND), was mediating between Israel and Hamas on the talks in Damascus, Cairo and Jerusalem. The Web site also said that Hamas members had consulted with Hizbullah men on the notion of using Uhrlau's services. Israel's ambassador in Berlin, Yoram Ben Ze'ev, spoke of the German involvement in mediation efforts to secure Schalit's release in an interview with Army Radio on Wednesday afternoon. "They have always been a reliable and trustworthy partner that wants to help Israel on various issues, including this one," he said. Klaus Vater, a spokesman for the German government, would neither confirm nor deny Uhrlau's possible involvement in the Schalit talks when confronted with the question by the Post on Wednesday. "Although I would like to answer your question," Vater said, "I must hold off with respect to this point. Such operational things will not be spread here from a government spokesman. There are good reasons for not spreading such things." Tovah Lazaroff and Benjamin Weinthal contributed to this report.