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Captive soldier Gilad Shalit is alive, misses his family and wants to read in the paper that he is nearing release and returning home. For the first time since his abduction to Gaza, which occurred more than three years ago, the Shalits and the rest of Israel's citizens received, on the eve of the Sukkot holiday, a sign of life from the abducted soldier. The soldier's father said he looked "in relatively good condition" in the tape, recorded by Shalit's captors.

The tape, delivered to Israel in exchange for the release of 20 female Palestinian prisoners, was the first expression of progress in talks with Hamas on a prisoner-exchange deal, in which Gilad Shalit would be set free for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his representative in the negotiations, Haggai Hadas, have changed the program for the talks that was set forth by their predecessors, former prime minister Ehud Olmert and his representative, Ofer Dekel. The German mediator who joined the efforts has gained the trust of both parties and created a new mechanism for dialogue, whose first result has been the exchange of the tape for the female prisoners.

Netanyahu has succeeded in keeping the details of the talks secret. His consent to the release of the female prisoners reflected his willingness to be more flexible and pursue previously untried methods for maintaining a dialogue with Hamas.

Now Netanyahu needs to complete the deal, bring back Shalit and put an end to this painful affair. The expected decision to release hundreds of Palestinian terrorists - including some responsible for attacks in Israel with many casualties - will encounter harsh political and public criticism. But it is up to the prime minister to demonstrate leadership and not fear any accusations that may be made against him. He should use his political clout and the public's support to get the nascent deal approved by the cabinet.

Netanyahu cannot take excessive security risks in releasing prisoners in exchange for Shalit. The deal's completion will illustrate Israel's commitment to and responsibility for the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces who, in embarking on frontline missions, are exposed to the risk of being killed or captured, as was Shalit's tank crew.

Yesterday Noam Shalit accused "the State of Israel and its decision makers" of omissions that have needlessly prolonged his son's captivity. His pain is understandable, and his claims merit thorough examination, but now the government needs to focus on achieving a reasonable compromise with Hamas, which would allow Shalit to return home to his family and country.