Shalit Activists: Easing Gaza Siege Must Not End Talks With Hamas

As government lifts restrictions on Gaza imports, campaigners for a deal to free captured IDF soldier call on PM to 'tell the truth' about chances for prisoner swap.

Relatives of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and activists in the public campaign to secure his release yesterday urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to acknowledge that there is no alternative to freeing the Palestinian prisoners whose release Hamas has demanded in return for Shalit.

The statement on behalf of the Shalit campaign was released after the inner cabinet authorized the prime minister to take steps to ease the Gaza blockade.

Campaigners for the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit
Alon Ron

The chairman of the campaign to free Shalit, Shimshon Liebman, told Haaretz that the easing of the blockade, along with the release of a Hamas prisoner, show that "the State of Israel has no leverage whatsoever, and the time has come to tell the truth."

Specifically, he said, Netanyahu and Barak must admit that the only way to free Shalit is by paying Hamas' price.

Liebman also expressed regret that the statement about easing the blockade did not contain any reference to Shalit.

Today, members of the Shalit family will attend a meeting of the Knesset caucus for Shalit's release. The Shalit campaign expects the caucus to work within the Knesset to pressure Netanyahu to make a decision on the case.

It also predicts that MKs will accept any proposal the prime minister makes to free Shalit.

MK Miri Regev (Likud ) - who, along with Shaul Mofaz (Kadima ) and Eitan Cabel (Labor ), started the Knesset caucus for Shalit - said yesterday, "It's clear that the price of Shalit's release is releasing prisoners with blood on their hands," meaning those convicted of killing Israelis. "But we must remember that precedent ... has proven that prisoners have not rushed to return to terrorist activity; the majority merely sought to return to their families. And on the other hand, we have a defense establishment whose job it is to lay its hands on those who resume hostile activity."

The prime minister's hesitation is understandable, she added, but a decision on the case must ultimately be made.

Silence from Palestinians

Palestinians have been following the Shalit family's activities closely, though both the families of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and the Palestinian officials handling their cases have adopted a policy of strict silence on the matter.

But a Palestinian source close to the prisoners' families accused the Israeli government of waffling on the issue.

"We are giving those conducting the negotiations all the time [necessary], in the hope that ultimately, the deal will come to fruition in the manner in which it was proposed back in the first stage of the negotiations," he added.