Free Shalit is Olmert’s fi­nal goal

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News - BY YAAKOV KATZ, JERUSALEM

WITH GEN­ERAL elec­tions two weeks away and Is­rael’s op­er­a­tion in Gaza against Ha­mas seem­ingly com­pleted, Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert has set a new goal for him­self be­fore he leaves of­fice — the re­turn of ab­ducted sol­dier Gi­lad Shalit.

De­spite the mil­i­tary action, the like­li­hood of a pris­oner swap be­ing agreed in the com­ing weeks is be­lieved to have grown since Is­rael ended Op­er­a­tion Cast Lead.

“The chances are greater to­day to se­cure his release,” De­fence Min­is­ter Ehud Barak said this week. “We will need to make tough de­ci­sions but we need to do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to bring Shalit home.”

On Tues­day, French Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy met Mr Shalit’s fa­ther Noam in Paris and in­formed him of con­fir­ma­tion he had re­cently re­ceived that the ab­ducted sol­dier was alive. Mr Shalit has dual Is­raeli and French cit­i­zen­ship.

“There is some hope but it is still too early to tell if it is real,” Mr Shalit said af­ter his meet­ing with Mr Sarkozy. “The is­sue is com­pli­cated and sen­si­tive and it is not re­ally over un­til it is over.”

Since the op­er­a­tion in Gaza, Is­raeli of­fi­cials have said that it is pos­si­ble that the gov­ern­ment will link the open­ing of the cross­ings into the Strip to Mr Shalit’s release.

Ha­mas has al­ready re­jected the pro­posal and stands by its orig­i­nal de­mand that close to 1,400 pris­on­ers be re­leased, in­clud­ing a list of some 700 ter­ror­ists with Is­raeli blood on their hands.

On Tues­day, an Is­raeli Be­douin IDF tracker was killed and three other sol­diers were se­ri­ously wounded af­ter a bomb went off next to their pa­trol along the Is­raeli-Gaza bor­der.

Is­rael re­sponded by send­ing troops back into Gaza in search of ad­di­tional bombs. The Air Force also bombed a mo­tor­bike be­ing driven by a Ha­mas op­er­a­tive who, de­fence of­fi­cials said, was in­volved in the at­tack.

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