Germany's foreign intelligence service, the BND, has put forward a concrete proposal in negotiations for the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. According to information obtained by SPIEGEL, Israel would release at least 450 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit. After his release, the Israeli government has expressed a willingness to release further prisoners.
The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that the prisoner releases be done as a humanitarian gesture and without any time pressure. Hamas has been given until the beginning of September to respond to the proposal.
The German negotiator has been activated at the explicit request of the Israeli government and has been commuting since mid-July to conduct negotiations with the parties to the conflict. Shalit was kidnapped in June 2006 on Gaza Strip border and has been in the hands of the Islamist Hamas ever since.
Earlier Talks Failed
In March, direct negotiations between Israel and Hamas failed. Talks in Cairo about a possible prisoner exchange also ended without any results, the Israeli media reported at the time. Those talks were considered, at least for the time being, the last opportunity for an agreement.
The office of then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at the time that talks had collapsed because of what they described as Hamas' excessive demands. Hamas, for its part, denied that it had hardened its position. One sticking point rejected by Hamas was a demand by Israel that a few dozen prisoners who had participated in the planning or execution of attacks not be allowed to return to the Palestinian territories, but instead get sent to another country.
Hamas waited months after Shalit's kidnapping before releasing an audiotape of the hostage to show he was still alive. A spokesperson for Hamas said in early 2007 that Shalit's family had been given a recording with his voice and also reiterated the Palestinian demand that 1,000 Palestinians be released in exchange for Shalit. Many are said to be women and children. At the time, the Israelis rejected the demand, saying it was excessive.
After the collapse of talks in Cairo in March 2009, Shalit's father wrote an open letter to Ehud Olmert. "We demand that you bring Gilad home before your term in office ends -- even if the price for it is high," Noam Shalit wrote to the departing prime minister. Shalit said he and his wife had sent their son to military service because they had been promised that no one would be left behind. This pact must not be broken, he wrote to the premier. "This letter is a prayer for my son. I ask you, from one father to another: Don't abandon my son."
Olmert was unable to secure the soldier's release. But it could happen this time through the BND's negotiations.
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