"We have a responsibility to bring the kidnapped soldiers home, even if they are dead," Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Tuesday morning.
Barak addressed recent reports of a possible decision to declare Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev as fallen soldiers whose place of burial is unknown during a visit to Netiv Ha'asara, a constant target of Palestinian Qassam and mortar attacks.
"Even if the process (of proclaiming them deceased) that began yesterday comes to pass – it should not in any way stop the negotiations to bring the soldiers home," said Barak.
In a move that outraged the Goldwasser and Regev families - IDF Chief Rabbi, Brigadier General Avi Ronsky began the process on Monday. The rabbi is the sole authority on the matter, as was the case with the three soldiers who were kidnapped from Har Dov in 2000.
Ronsky received the relevant intelligence information and will determine whether or not do declare the two soldiers "killed in action whose place of burial is unknown". The chief military is the only one authorized to make such an assertion.
Defense officials clarified the decision on Tuesday morning and said it stemmed from recently obtained intelligence information.
According to the officials, past intelligence indicated that one of the two captives was killed during the initial kidnapping raid and the other was gravely wounded. However the new information, they said, sheds light on the past working assumption – and was therefore transferred to the chief military rabbi.
Regev and Goldwasser were captured by Hizbullah in a cross-border raid that sparked the Second Lebanon War on July 12, 2006.
Declaring the captive soldiers as "killed in action" would greatly affect the burgeoning prisoner exchange deal with Hizbullah, as the "price" paid for the return of soldiers' bodies is usually significantly lower in such agreements.
'Calm will be met with calm'
Barak also toured the Gaza border fence to survey the situation in the region following the ceasefire with Hamas.
"Calm will be met with calm, and quiet with quiet," he said of the future of the shaky truce.
As for the fate of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, Barak said: "The ceasefire, so long as it holds, will allow us to make the most of intensive negotiations for his return as well as intensifying our work in the Home Front.
"The IDF is prepared for any scenario, and after seven years of Qassams – the residents of the Gaza-vicinity communities deserve some peace."