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Defense Minister Ehud Barak reiterated yesterday his belief that Israel Defense Forces soldiers must be willing to risk their lives in the service of their country, and that the government would not pay any price for the return of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been languishing in Hamas captivity for more than three years.

"The time has come to say bluntly: Combat troops and soldiers arrive with the knowledge that the task of fulfilling their missions entails a willingness to risk their lives, and that fighters have that willingness to undertake the mission," Barak said.

The defense minister raised eyebrows on Tuesday during a question-and-answer session with high-school students, in which stated the tone of the public discussion surrounding the Shalit case has included "whining."

"We cannot blur the basic truth," Barak said yesterday. "We are a generation of fighters, and in the Middle East, there is no mercy for the weak and there will not be a second opportunity for those who do not know how to defend themselves."

The defense minister said that a society seeking to survive "must prepare its youth to stand together." He added: "We have a moral responsibility as commanders to bring back Shalit, and we will make every possible and worthy effort to bring him home - but not at any price. We cannot get carried away by words that have no basis in fact."

Shalit's father, Noam Shalit, urged the government yesterday to secure his son's release. "During these days of repentance and before the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, Gilad needs to be home," he said at a ceremony in Ashdod. "Gilad needs to come home before it is too late, and someone can correct me if I'm wrong." He said he wanted to see "more determination and less talk."

The German mediator in the talks for his release has presented Hamas with a new proposal, giving the organization three days to respond, according to the German weekly Der Spiegel.