Photo: Noam Rotem
Gilad Shalit
Photo: Noam Rotem
Ofer Dekel
Photo: Oren Agmon
Photo: Daniel Bar-On
Ehud Olmert
Photo: Daniel Bar-On

Olmert: Shalit's return still far

Prime minister will ask Cairo to intensify negotiations for release of kidnapped soldier in hopes of making most of opportunity presented by ceasefire with Hamas. Meanwhile Jerusalem officials try to lower expectations

"We do not intent to continue the negotiations in the same vein as before. We want intensive talks that will yield results," said officials in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office on Thursday evening as Olmert prepares to head for Cairo next week fresh off the heels of Israel's ceasefire with Hamas.


The prime minister will ask Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to intensify current efforts to secure the release of kidnapped Gilad Shalit. Egypt successfully brokered the shaky Gaza truce.


However, said the prime minister's office, it would be unwise to hang too many hopes on seeing Shalit back home within weeks.


"This is a process that has just been renewed, it will take time," Jerusalem sources clarified.


On Tuesday Olmert is expected to embark for Egypt with his special envoy on MIA negotiations, Ofer Dekel, in tow. Dekel is to meet with Egyptian intelligence chief Gen. Omar Suleiman.


The meeting, which was scheduled during Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad's most recent visit to Egypt earlier this week in his capacity as head of the Defense Ministry's Security-Diplomatic Bureau.


Israel, Dekel will stress before Suleiman, is determined to enter rigorous negotiations in the hopes of making the most of the opportunity to agree on a prisoner-exchange deal with Hamas.


Olmert, in the meantime, will meet with Mubarak and thank him fro Egypt's integral role in the ceasefire efforts while also promoting the Shalit deal. Mubarak will be asked to use Egypt's influence over Hamas to help expedite the process and perhaps compromise on its demands from Israel.


The prime minister's chief concern remains that Hamas will refuse to ease its demand to see Israel release hundreds of prisoners 'with blood on their hands' in return for Shalit. Such a move would result in considerable political turmoil for Olmert back home.


'Not the time for castles in the air'

Despite the renewal of the talks with Hamas and accelerated efforts to free Shalit, Jerusalem will not be sending a team of negotiators to accompany Dekel on the trip.


At this point the envoy is expected to conduct the talks with Hamas on his own, while simultaneously conducting negotiations for the return of kidnapped soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser through German mediator Gerhard Conrad.


If Cairo and Hamas appear responsive, then Dekel or other Israeli representatives are expected to remain in Egypt for the coming weeks in the hopes of sealing the deal as soon as possible.


"It is important to keep in mind that these are difficult, sensitive negotiations, wherein Hamas is demanding the release of people who have murdered Israeli citizens. These are negotiations that will take time. This is not the time to be building castles in the air," Jerusalem emphasized.


Meanwhile defense officials say that without the ceasefire agreement, the negotiations for Shalit's release could not have been renewed.


פרסום ראשון: 06.20.08, 00:53
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