Monday, June 23, 2008
Cairo Talks on Gilad Shalit to Begin, Hizbullah Proposal Updated
Hana Levi Julian
Indirect negotiations for the release of kidnapped IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit - between Israeli and Hamas negotiators, via Egyptian mediators - have begun at a hotel in Cairo. Both the Israeli delegation, as well as the representatives from the Hamas terrorist organization, will be staying at the same hotel during the talks, according to Arab sources.The Hamas delegation has once again changed its demands, upping the ante from last week's agreed-upon list of 450 Palestinian Authority terrorists, many of whom had "blood on their hands," to a new list of 1,000 terrorists whose release it demands.
The new demand calls for Israel to initially release 350 terrorists, including those responsible for the deaths of Israeli civilians and soldiers, in return for transferring Shalit to the custody of Egyptian mediators.
In the second step of the proposed prisoner swap, the Olmert government would free another 100 terrorists, and Shalit would be returned to Israel.
In the final step, an additional 550 terrorists would be released two months after Shalit's release, according to the Hamas proposal described by Arab sources.
Israel Updates its Proposal to Hizbullah, Demands Information on Ron Arad
A similar scenario has developed with Hizbullah. Following a disputed change in demands by the Hizbullah terrorist organization in negotiations for the return of kidnapped IDF reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, Israel is adding its own demand for information about the fate of missing IAF navigator Ron Arad.
In a four-hour meeting in the Prime Minster's Office Sunday night, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, the Prime Minister's special envoy for MIA Affairs, Ofer Dekel, and other officials discussed various aspects of the deal.
Hizbullah reportedly has demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian Authority terrorists last week, in a sharp turnabout from its prior agreement to a prisoner exchange in which arch-terrorist Samir Kuntar would be freed. Four other live operatives, as well as eight dead terrorists captured during the Second Lebanon War, would also be included in the swap.
"Everyone understands that this deal has to be closed as soon as possible because it has a major impact on the matter of Gilad Shalit," said a government source quoted by Haaretz on Sunday.
Official Denials Hizbullah Changed Demands
Despite media reports to the contrary, government officials denied late Sunday night that Hizbullah had changed their demands.
Miki Goldwasser, mother of kidnapped reservist Ehud Goldwasser, also strenuously denied the report earlier in the day. She said the family was "checking it, and for sure it didn't come from Hizbullah."
Both the Goldwasser and Regev families oppose any move to declare the captives dead - a possibility raised Sunday at a meeting between Dekel, the Prime Minister, former negotiator Ilan Biran, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and other security officials.
Prime Minister Olmert reportedly was considering declaring the two soldiers "killed in action," a move that would have sent a signal to Hizbullah that negotiations for the pair were no longer an urgent priority.
Minister Eli Yishai: Issue May Have Become 'A Life for A Life'
Meanwhile the Goldwasser and Regev families began the day on Sunday with a visit to former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, from whom they received a blessing and a sympathetic ear. However, the spiritual leader of the Shas party made no promises and no commitment to tell his ministers how to vote on a prisoner swap deal with Hizbullah, with or without the inclusion of arch-terrorist Samir Kuntar.
The two families spent the rest of the day visiting the offices of one politician after another in a desperate attempt to convince them to vote in favor of a proposal to trade Kuntar in return for their loved ones.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (Kadima), Public Security Minister Avi Dichter (Kadima), Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) and Minister-without-Portfolio Ami Ayalon (Labor) were sympathetic, but made no promises either.
Eli Yishai noted, however, that Goldwasser's wife Karnit is now considered an aguna under Jewish law; meaning, unless her husband either returns alive or is proven dead, she will never be permitted to remarry. This, he said, merits serious consideration in any agreement that is negotiated for the two captives.
Yishai was quoted by The Jerusalem Post as saying, "If it should be concluded that the soldiers are dead, this is not a a deal of live Lebanese prisoners in exchange for dead Israeli soldiers, but rather Lebanese prisoners in exchange for the life of Karnit Goldwasser."
Dekel to Present Modified Israeli Proposal to German Mediator
The Lebanese Druze terrorist around whom the deal is revolving, Samir Kuntar, is currently serving four consecutive sentences of life in prison for the brutal murders of four Israelis – two of them toddlers – during a terror attack on Nahariya which he led in 1979.
Until this point, he has been held as a final bargaining chip for the return of Ron Arad, whose aircraft was shot down over Lebanon in 1986. Arad's wife joined the petition filed by Gilad Shalit's parents over the weekend against the government's implementation of the ceasefire deal with Hamas.
Ron Arad was captured by Amal terrorists (led by Nabil Berri, currently the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament), who transferred him to a Hizbullah unit that eventually transferred him to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. With the exception of a couple of handwritten letters written within the first year of his capture, Arad has never been heard from since.
The Israeli proposal will reportedly demand clear information about the current condition of both Goldwasser and Regev, as well as information about the fate of Ron Arad, before a swap is approved.