Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Next on the Menu: IDF Soldier Gilad Shalit

Missing soldier Gilad Shalit.

If such a thing is possible, the fate of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit is even more on the minds of Israeli citizens today. Last week, in a prisoner exchange deal, the bodies of soldiers Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were released in exchange for several Hezbollah prisoners.

This, mercifully and tragically, allowed the families of the two soldiers to turn their energies toward pressuring the government for a prisoner swap involving Shalit, who was taken in a cross-border raid in 2006.

Shalit's company was released from the army today and his fellow soldiers used the opportunity to draw attention to his plight and remind leaders that he would not be forgotten. After their release, the soldiers marched the nine kilometers from Bakum base to the Defense Minister's Bureau in Tel Aviv, where they met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Haaretz says about the meeting:
Shalit's comrades met with Barak and asked him - as someone who once served as a commanding officer - to work toward achieving his release. They said that the meeting was pleasant, and that Barak told them efforts are under way to secure Shalit's freedom.
A rally was then held in Rabin Square, where hundreds of supporters gathered to express their hope for Shalit's release.

They reported after their meeting with Barak that he was keeping mum about the swap for good reason:
The reservists also said Barak told them part of the process is being conducted in secrecy so as to avoid the talks being sabotaged.
However, Hamas higher-ups are possibly not being as tight-lipped because the Arab press has begun reporting details about the negotiations.

Al-Bayan, a newspaper published in the UAE, reported the process currently being discussed:
Under the initiative, Israel would release several dozen prisoners a confidence-building measure, including Hamas parliamentarians and ministers arrested after Shalit's abduction in June 2006. In return, Shalit would be brought to Egypt, where his family would be able to visit him. After this stage, negotiations for the release of more Palestinian prisoners and Shalit's return home would continue.
Israel has already approved 71 names on a list of over 800 prisoners, including some who are serving multiple life sentences for involvement in terrorist attacks. Israel expects to release several such prisoners, but is also hoping Egypt will pressure Hamas to be more flexible about the negotiations.

Because military service is mandatory in Israel, the government has a very strong sense of responsibility toward keeping soldiers out of danger and securing their release should they be captured. A missing Israeli soldier is likely to receive much more attention than a missing soldier in any other army.

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