High Court to state: Keep Gaza crossings closed until Monday
Father of abducted soldier meets Israel's Gaza truce negotiator for clarification on cease-fire deal.
The High Court of Justice on Sunday ordered the state to keep border crossings to the Gaza Strip closed until noon on Monday. The temporary injunction was issued in response to a petition submitted by the family of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit demanding clarification on the terms of the Gaza cease-fire deal.
The petition - filed against the state of Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak - asks the High Court to instruct the government to explain why the truce between Israel and Hamas was not conditioned upon Gilad's release or his transfer to Egypt.
The petition also asks why Olmert did not raise the issue for review by the committee for national security.
The state had opened the some of the border crossings to Gaza on Sunday, to begin a gradual ease of the months-long blockade placed on the coastal territory, as part of the truce deal.
In response to the Shalit family's petition, the court recommended that Gilad's father, Noam, meet with Amos Gilad, the defense establishment official charged with negotiating a cease-fire over the Gaza Strip.
The two met within hours of the recommendation, and concluded their talks on Sunday evening.
The State Attorney on Sunday urged the court to reject the petition, saying it interfered with the government's agenda, which included the release of the soldier as a top priority.
The reply to the court by the State Attorney notwithstanding, Justice Minister Daniel Friedman gave indirect backing to the Shalits, saying that opening key Gaza crossing points before Shalit was returned would prove that "the entire system has gone mad."
The Popular Resistance Committees, one of the groups that captured Schalit, criticized the family's court challenge, saying the truce had improved the chances of freeing the soldier.
"The calm is a good factor that might help to get his son out," said Abu Mujahid, a spokesman for the group.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak acknowledged that efforts to win Shalit's release might fare better during a period of quiet than during fighting, but told Sunday's weekly Cabinet meeting that making concessions to Hamas, such as opening the borders, was not likely to be the move that ends his captivity.
"Anyone who thinks so...needs to come down to earth," an official present at the closed-door meeting quoted Barak as saying.
Arad's wife: Don't repeat past mistakes with Gilad Shalit
Meanwhile, the wife of missing Israel Air Force navigator Ron Arad, Tami, on Sunday joined efforts underway to secure the release of Shalit, who has been held captive in Gaza since June 2006.
Ron Arad was captured by a Lebanese militia in 1986 and is still considered missing. No signs of life have been received since 1988.
Tami Arad wrote to Olmert on Sunday that "there is only one way to bring a prisoner home alive - to pay." She urged him not to extinguish the hopes of Shalit's family.
The letter has been attached to a petition submitted by Shalit's parents to the High Court of Justice on Saturday demanding clarification on why the government had agreed to a cease-fire with Hamas without conditioning it on their son's release.
Arad wrote: "Twenty-two years after Ron disappeared into the Lebanese depths, I am permitting myself to take advantage of my status in this eternal absence and join the cries of Aviva and Noam Shalit.
"I look in the mirror every morning, and unlike you and your ministers, I live with guilt. I failed. I couldn't affect your predecessors during a time when it may have been possible to bring Ron home alive. 22 years later I hear Ron's voice echoing in Gilad's silence. Gilad is begging for his life and it seems that your ears are blocked.
"When Ron was captured I met pilots from his squadron who came back from Egyptian and Syrian captivity. Those pilots gave me the feeling that even captivity has a horizon. Since then, the rules have changed, and for Ron, the depths have overtaken the horizon, but for Gilad it is still within reach.
"I don't claim to put myself into the anguished shoes of the bereaved families, whose children's lives were cut short by murderers eligible for release [in a prisoner exchange deal for Shalit.] Pain is measured only by suffering. I can petition only in my own name, and proclaim my feelings of missed opportunity and loss that are not forgiven when your loved one is alive, breathing, wishing for his family, and left to his fate. Ron's expressions, as they were portrayed in pictures sent from captivity, I have kept deep in my heart. It was not the Ron that I knew: the opinionated, proud man with the self confidence of a rocket scientist, because in captivity there is no pride. In captivity there is only a gun pressed against your temple. Ron didn't come back. 22 years and no answer. 22 years and Ron didn't have the chance to enjoy the efforts to bring him back, because they were made too late.
"The mistakes that were made with Ron must not be repeated with Gilad. Israel's deterrence capabilities will not rise and fall on the back of its captives. Bigger experts than me have devised more and less effective methods of battling terror and they don't begin and end with the solution to the kidnapping of soldiers. From past experience there is only one way to bring captives home alive - to pay. And as the time passes, the price is rising and the chances are diminishing, because we end up paying for dead captives too. Captivity is not a terminal disease. The recovery is in your hands. Don't extinguish Gilad's hopes to return to his family. Don't take away from Noam and Aviva the chance to be reunited with their son, to hold him close, to feel the whisper of his breaths."
As part of their petition, Shalit's parents published a handwritten letter, penned by their son, which was delivered to the family two weeks ago by representatives of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
The first petitioner listed is Shalit, who has been promoted to the rank of staff sergeant since his abduction. His parents Aviva and Noam say they view the letter received from him as a "moral power of attorney" to petition the court on his behalf.
The Egyptian-mediated cease-fire between Israel and Hamas took effect Thursday morning, halting daily Palestinian rocket attacks against southern Israeli towns and communities and Israeli counterraids and airstrikes against Hamas militants in Gaza.
Since Shalit's abduction in June 2006, his parents have met on multiple occasions with political and security authorities, including six times with Olmert and three with Barak. According to the petition, during these meetings the Shalit family was promised that any cease-fire agreement would include Gilad's release.
Shalit's parents have largely remained quiet the past two years so not to interfere with the ongoing negotiations to free their son. But recently they have become increasingly critical of how the government has handled the affair, giving interviews in which they have lashed out at Olmert and other leaders.
In addition, according to the petition, the elements of the truce were raised during a June 11 ministerial committee meeting and were approved because they unequivocally called Shalit's release an integral part of any deal.
"To the petitioners' dismay," reads part of the petition, "over the last few days, Israeli and international media outlets have reported that an Egyptian-brokered truce has been agreed to by Israel and Hamas, but the deal does not refer to Shalit or to his release."
The court petition also reveals that Shalit had his left arm broken and a shoulder lightly wounded during his abduction.
The petition also raises the concern that now that the truce is in effect, the main leverage - the closure of Gaza's borders - that could bring Hamas to free Shalit has been lost.
"All of Israel's efforts to bring about the release of Ron Arad resulted in nothing, in part because of severe mistakes made by generations of Israeli governments that did not take advantage of what leverage they had in their hands," read the petition's closing remarks.
"It is possible to expect the decision-makers in Israel to internalize past lessons and come to the necessary conclusions. It is not too late in the matter of Gilad Shalit."
Report: Shalit release held up dispute over 30 prisoners
The London-based newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat earlier on Saturday reported that Shalit's release was being delayed by a dispute between Israel and Hamas over the fate of 30 Hamas prisoners.
The agreement between Israel and Hamas stipulates that 450 Palestinian prisoners will be freed in exchange for Shalit.
The exchange is to happen in phases: First, Shalit will be handed over to Egypt and Israel will release 350 prisoners, after which Shalit will return to Israel, and the final 100 Palestinians will be freed.
The list of prisoners Israel has agreed to release is expected to include women, children, elderly and ill individuals, some of whom are serving sentences for serious crimes.
Last week, a senior political source said that negotiations over Shalit's release are due to resume on Tuesday in Egypt. Ofer Dekel, Israel's chief negotiator for securing the release of abducted soldiers, will travel to Cairo to meet with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.
Palestinian sources also confirmed that intensive negotiations will begin next week to finalize the deal for Shalit's release.