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Shalit negotiator quits

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s special negotiator for prisoner affairs, who is working to strike a deal with Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, officially stepped down.

Ofer Dekel met with Benjamin Netanyahu and asked the prime minister to relieve him from his post, according to a statement released Tuesday night by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Dekel has been serving as Israel’s representative to the Egyptian-mediated negotiations with Hamas to gain the release of Shalit, who was kidnapped in a cross-border attack in June 2006.

Dekel, who has served in the position for 2 1/2 years, had asked former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to relieve him of his duties, but agreed to serve until Olmert left office, according to the statement. Dekel successfully concluded negotiations with Hezbollah last summer that  brought back to Israel the bodies of soldiers Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

Netanyahu in the statement "expressed regret" at Dekel’s resignation.

"Ofer Dekel devoted days and nights of his time to a mission of unparalleled importance, on a strictly voluntary basis and without any remuneration," the prime minister said.

Israel’s daily Ha’aretz reported that Netanyahu was re-examining the Shalit case and was planning to ask Dekel to step down at a meeting Thursday.

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet Wednesday night with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman to discuss the Shalit negotiations.
 

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