Israeli negotiators returned to Jerusalem for a Tuesday afternoon Cabinet meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert after Hamas officials "hardened" their position over the release of an abducted soldier.
“It became clear during the discussions that Hamas had hardened its position, reneged on understandings that had been formulated over the past year and raised extreme demands,” Olmert’s office said in a statement. Israeli Security Agency Director Yuval Diskin and the prime minister’s special envoy, Ofer Dekel, had been taking part in Egyptian-mediated talks in Cairo regarding the release of Gilad Shalit. Rumors began to spread over the weekend that there could be a breakthrough at the talks, but those hopes appear to have been dashed in light of the statement from the prime minister’s office. Palestinian militants, including some linked to Hamas, crossed into Israel from Gaza on June 25, 2006, and kidnapped Shalit, who was 19. Talks on his release have started and stalled many times. Hamas has demanded that Israel release hundreds of prisoners. Israel has responded that many Hamas wants released were behind terrorist attacks that killed many Israeli civilians, and will not be released. Olmert has been criticized for failing to bring the soldier home.
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But at the beginning of a Cabinet meeting Sunday, the outgoing prime minister said, “I would like to point out that over the past three years, we have made unceasing, I would say considerable, wide-ranging and complex efforts on various channels, some of them hidden, most of which were known to two or three people only, in order to protect the effort … to bring about an agreement that will lead to Gilad Shalit’s release.” Incoming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to take a harder line with Hamas, likely making negotiations for Shalit’s release more difficult. It’s been nearly 1,000 days since the soldier was abducted, but his family continues to hold out hope for his release. Monday felt “like all the 995 days, but our suffering is nothing compared to Gilad’s suffering,” said his mother, Aviva. His brother Yuval said, “According to the experience of last three years that Gilad is not here, it is hard to be optimistic.” But, he added, “We have no choice but to grab onto hope these days.”