Mediators Tell Haaretz Talks on Soldier Could Resume on Wednesday

Haniyeh: Negotiations must continue, kidnappers must not kill soldier; PM: Israel will respond to all attacks.

Following the expiration of the kidnappers' ultimatum, there was no contact Tuesday between Hamas and the Egyptian team mediating talks regarding Corporal Gilad Shalit. The soldier's captors had threatened to sever all talks with those involved in the negotiations, including the Egyptians.

Mediators told Haaretz that talks might resume as early as Wednesday. "Prime Minister [Ismail] Haniyeh expressed his support for the the Egyptian efforts to continue and there is still no official decision by the kidnappers to sever contact," one source said.

"The proof of this is that there has been no official statement from the three captor organizations, as happened previously, announcing the cessation of contact with the Egyptian security team. So far we have only heard in the media the declaration of Osama al-Nazimi [of Hamas], who said there seems no point for the kidnappers to continue negotiating after the ultimatum ended."

Palestinian sources said the Egyptians did not meet Tuesday with members of any branch of Hamas. However, officials involved in the negotiations stressed that this is a temporary hiatus and that Egyptian efforts to resolve the crisis by diplomatic means are continuing.

The officials said there is no daily contact with the kidnappers themselves, and explained that there were no meetings with Hamas Tuesday because a reassessment of the situation was necessary, in view of the expired ultimatum and the announcement by one of the spokesmen for the kidnap groups that "we have closed the case of the kidnapped soldier."

Palestinian security sources were less optimistic that talks would resume, maintaining there is a clear disconnect now between Hamas and the Egyptian team.

"Hamas is unwilling to provide information about the fate of the kidnapped soldier, and Israel is unwilling to release prisoners, so there is nothing to talk about," one source said.

The sources told Haaretz that the Hamas representatives who were mediating between the kidnappers and the Egyptian team, Khalil al-Hayeh and Osama Nazimi, had severed contact with the Egyptians.

Meanwhile, Haniyeh Tuesday called on the kidnappers not to harm Shalit. At the close of a Palestinian cabinet meeting at the prime minister's Gaza office, which was partly damaged in an IAF helicopter assault Monday, Haniyeh said: "We emphasize the need to continue the diplomatic efforts and not close the door on negotiations. The Palestinian government has said and still says this: The soldier's life must be protected and he must be treated with respect. We view this as a humane matter, not merely a political one."

"The Palestinian government since the first minute of this incident has called and continues to call for the need to protect the life of the Israeli soldier and to treat him well," Haniyeh added.

Haniyeh's statement came several hours after a spokesman for the Army of Islam, one of the three groups holding Shalit, announced that his organization would no longer negotiate Shalit's release but has no intention of harming him.

The Palestinian government spokesman, Ghazi Hamad, issued a statement calling for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis. He said the Egyptian team is not pressuring any side, but merely conveying messages at this stage.

Meanwhile, Israel said Tuesday that its refusal to negotiate with the militants holding Shalit remained unchanged, despite the expiration of the deadline.

Haniyeh also expressed hope for a peaceful resolution to the standoff.

"The government is exerting efforts with Palestinian, Arab and regional parties to end this case in the appropriate manner," he said. Haniyeh added that the government reiterates the need "to continue the political, diplomatic and negotiation efforts and not to close the door and use the language of wisdom and logic to end this. "

Olmert: No one attacking Israel will be immuneMeanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert again ruled out negotiations with Shalit's kidnappers Tuesday, warning that the IDF would target all militants involved in his abduction.

"We will strike all terror elements and all those who strike the State of Israel will not be immune," Olmert told a business conference in the Negev.

"We will operate with all our might, but we won't give in to blackmail," Olmert said. "We won't negotiate with terror elements and we won't let anyone believe that kidnapping is a tool to bring Israel to its knees."

Olmert told the conference that he had instructed the IDF to continue with its ground offensive in Gaza and urged the public to be patient.

"We need to know how to purse our lips and how to deal a winning strike," he said. "We will do both of these, we will prevail and we will bring Gilad Shalit back to his parents, his family, to those who love him."

Interior Minister Roni Bar-On on Tuesday warned the Hamas-led Palestinian government that the "sky would fall on them" if they harmed Shalit.

"Hamas well understands ... that the sky will fall on them if they harm Gilad Shalit," Bar-On said.

"Nothing has changed from our standpoint," Justice Minister Haim Ramon told Army Radio on Tuesday. "The right thing is not to give a prize to terror, not to give in to terror, but the opposite."