'Even Hamas Leaders Don't Know Where Shalit Is'

Home Front Defense Minister says most of the militants involved in the soldier's capture from Gaza five years ago 'are no longer with us.'

Even the leaders of Hamas do not know the whereabouts of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said Wednesday.

Only a small group of militants were aware of where Shalit was being held, and most of them had already been killed in IDF operations, Vilani told students at Jerusalem's Gymnasia High School.

Matan Vilani - Ofer Vaknin
Ofer Vaknin

"Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh does not know where Shalit is and the Hamas chief of staff does not know either," Vilani said, in an address delivered just three weeks before the fifth anniversary of Shalit's abduction in a cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip.

"There is a very small group of people who are holding Gilad Shalit that know [where he is being held], and a large number of them are no longer with us," said Vilnai.

Most of the members of Hamas who know where Shalit is being held died "in unfortunate accidents," Vilnai said.

"Anyone involved in the abduction does not need to worry about the day that he will end up in an old-age home, because he will not get there," added the minister.

"They are holding him in such a way that it is difficult to know where he is," Vilnai said. "From the first week of the abduction I said that if the military cannot get him back, we have to pay a price of hundreds of mass-murderers in order to secure his release, but when Hamas starts to murder again, I want to see everybody that supports a deal now to speak up."

"When I say a 'heavy price', of course I don't mean that we should divide Jerusalem, " Vilnai clarified.

The minister told students of his own experience as commander of an IDF Paratroopers Brigade reconnaissance unit in Egypt, and said he had known then that the state would worry about his well-being regardless of the consequences.

"When they sent me to Egypt dressed as an Egyptian soldier with Egyptian weapons, it was clear to me that if, God Forbid, I fell into enemy hands, I would be returned home, and as far as I am concerned, Gilad is in the same situation," said Vilnai.

The minister also said that the mass demonstrations demanding Israel push forth negotiations to see Shalit released could have an adverse effect. "Part of the demonstrations for bringing Shalit home encourage Hamas to keep him imprisoned," he said.