Captive deal 'key to Gaza truce' 
Israel's security cabinet has decided there will be no truce in Gaza
until an Israeli soldier captured in 2006 is freed, Israel's interior
minister says.  
Meir Sheetrit told
reporters that the cabinet had backed demands to link Cpl Gilad
Shalit's release to the lifting of Israel's blockade of Gaza. 
Israel has closed Gaza's borders, allowing only essential supplies in. 
Leaders of the Palestinian group Hamas have said the border crossing and 
prisoner issues cannot be linked. 
After the security cabinet meeting, Mr Sheetrit told journalists: "The
security cabinet unanimously decided that the release of the soldier
Shalit is a condition to any agreement with Hamas." 
Cpl Shalit was seized by Palestinian militants in June 2006 while he was on 
duty on the edge of the Gaza Strip. 
'Insult to Egypt'  
In recent days outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has demanded the
resolution of the Shalit issue before looking at "reopening the
crossings and rehabilitating the Gaza Strip". 
Hamas leaders have accused Mr Olmert of trying to block Egyptian-mediated truce 
"This Zionist position imposes new conditions at the last minute. This
completely contradicts the Egyptian and Palestinian positions," AFP
news agency quoted Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum as saying. 
Even Israel's top negotiator in the peace talks, Amos Gilad, was quoted
offering outspoken criticism of the prime minister. 
"Suddenly, the order of things has been changed...
Where does that lead, to insult the Egyptians? To make them want to
drop the whole thing?" he was quoted saying in the Maariv daily. 
Hamas has demanded the release of 1,400 Palestinians
detained in Israeli jails, including ones involved in attacks on
Israelis who have mostly been kept out of past swaps. 
Aid agencies say Gaza needs the crossings reopened to
people and a much greater volume and range of goods if it is to rebuild
after Israel's 22-day air, sea and land bombardment which inflicted
heavy damage on the territory's infrastructure and destroyed some 5,000
The Israeli authorities believe Cpl Shalit is still
alive. In the past they have been prepared to exchange hostages and the
remains of soldiers for large numbers of Arab prisoners. 
Post-election talks  
Later in the day, Israel's largely ceremonial president, Shimon Peres,
will begin consulting parliamentary leaders to decide who to task to
try to form a new government after close results in the 10 February
general election. 
"I am conscious of the serious difficulties that exist at this moment," Mr 
Peres told public radio. 
"I will do everything to allow the formation of a government that will best 
reflect the will of the voters," he said. 
The centrist Kadima, led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni won 28 seats
in the 120-member parliament to 27 for Likud party. She replaced former
party leader Mr Olmert who stepped down after becoming embroiled in
corruption scandals, although he denies wrongdoing. 
Analysts say although Ms Livni came first, Likud leader
Benjamin Netanyahu appears to command the largest bloc of supporters. 
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/02/18 14:10:55 GMT


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