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Israeli ministers tell Shalit negotiators to proceed

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner Cabinet has given Israel’s negotiating team the go-ahead to continue talks for the release of soldier Gilad Shalit.

On Tuesday, shortly after the prime minister and his seven senior Cabinet ministers finished their fifth meeting in two days on a prisoner swap, a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office said that instructions were given to the negotiating team regarding "the  continuation of efforts to bring Gilad Shalit home safe and sound."

Israel reportedly relayed its response to Hamas through a German mediator who was to take the response directly to the Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported Tuesday. No details of the response were given.

Reports have suggested that the Cabinet will ask to change the number of Hamas prisoners to be released to the West Bank, and that they instead be sent to the Gaza Strip or exiled abroad.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak was the first minister to publicly discuss the deliberations.

"Our top priority, according to both ethics and authority, is to bring Gilad home," Barak said. "Not at any cost, but in every possible and appropriate way."

The formulation of a response capped off the five long meetings over two days to discuss the prisoner swap.

Netanyahu had met Monday afternoon with Shalit’s parents, Noam and Aviva, who remained camped outside of the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem all day Monday and returned Tuesday.

"The process is not over, but I expect it to be over soon," Noam Shalit told reporters Monday afternoon. "We mainly came to listen. I am no longer optimistic, but not pessimistic either."

Also Monday, members of the Campaign to Free Gilad Shalit demonstrated for the soldier’s release in front of the Prime Minister’s Office holding life-sized cardboard cutouts of Shalit.

Shalit’s parents on Sunday personally delivered a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office before the start of the third meeting. They did not see Netanyahu.

"We feel that the coming days will be fateful for our beloved son Gilad," Noam and Aviva Shalit wrote in their letter. "We are monitoring with concern and hope the movements of the government, and of yourself, at its head, in your sincere efforts to bring Gilad home. We turn to you, Mr. Prime Minister, before it becomes too late."

Hamas terrorists captured Shalit in a cross-border raid in 2006. He is said to be held in Gaza.

The inner Cabinet members are  Defense Minister Ehud Barak; Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman; Deputy Prime Ministers Moshe Ya’alon, Dan Meridor and Eli Yishai; and Minister Without Portfolio Benny Begin.
 

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