Israeli minister: Hamas values Shalit

Hamas is unlikely to harm Gilad Shalit or suspend talks to free the captive soldier, an Israeli official said.

Major raids by Israel on the Gaza Strip this week prompted members of the ruling Hamas to threaten never to release Shalit, an Israeli soldier abducted on the border in June 2006.

One Hamas official said Shalit’s fate could be like that of Ron Arad, an Israeli Air Force navigator who disappeared into captivity after bailing out over Lebanon in 1986.

But Israeli Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer played down the threats Thursday.

“The main asset Hamas has today is Gilad Shalit. We have to regard what Hamas said with skepticism,” Ben-Eliezer, a former defense minister, told Army Radio. “I think that today it is in Hamas’ supreme interest to take good care of Gilad.”

Through Egyptian mediators, Hamas has demanded that Israel free 1,400 jailed Palestinians, including top terrorists, in exchange for Shalit. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has balked at that roster, but on Sundayhe  will convene a Cabinet committee to decide on whether to offer a smaller prisoner amnesty.

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