JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel has red lines it will not cross in negotiations with Hamas to bring Gilad Shalit home, Ehud Olmert said.
The outgoing prime minister, in an address to the nation Tuesday night, said his Cabinet agreed during a three-hour meeting Tuesday afternoon convened to discuss the ramped-up negotiations that current Hamas demands for a deal on returning the kidnapped soldier were impossible.
The Egyptian-brokered talks on Shalit reportedly ended Monday night in a deadlock.
“Israel agreed to generous and far-reaching compromises,” Olmert said in his address. “I approved these compromises, which meant releasing dozens of prisoners, some of them murderers.
“These offers were exhausted. Others will not be made. We will not agree to release prisoners other than the hundreds we already agreed to.”
Olmert said Israel “spared no efforts, but Hamas is a murderous, unscrupulous group.”
Israel will continue efforts to free Shalit, the prime minister said.
“We’ll continue talking with whomever we can, and won’t halt our efforts,” Olmert said in his address. “We are not a defeated country, we are not a beaten state.”
Shalit’s family had met with Olmert following the Cabinet meeting.
“Olmert is still working on the Gilad matter, he is not giving up, and this will go on until the last moment,” Shalit’s father, Noam, said after meeting with Olmert.
The Cabinet agreed to appoint a special ministerial committee to seek ways to pressure Hamas to release Shalit, for example by making prison conditions of Hamas prisoners resemble those of Shalit. Recommendations will be presented Sunday, according to reports.
During the meeting, Shin Bet director Yuval Diskin said he was not opposed to the Cabinet’s plans to publicize the list of prisoners that would be freed, according to reports.
The Jerusalem Post quoted ministers coming out of the meeting as saying the negotiations over Shalit were “stuck.”
“Hamas made demands that no Israeli government would have been able to accept,” Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann was quoted as saying.
Each minister at the meeting was given a letter from the Shalit family and its supporters.
A letter by Noam Shalit given to Olmert shortly before the Cabinet meeting read: “We demand that you bring Gilad home before the end of your term, despite the heavy price this entails.
“I am turning to you for the last time on behalf of my family, which is waiting for its son who is locked up in Hamas’ dungeons; 996 days have passed since Gilad was kidnapped during your tenure as PM. For nearly three years he has been abandoned in dark burrows, and those who sent him do not know what condition he’s in. This letter is a prayer for my son. I am asking you — father to father — don’t abandon my son Gilad.”
It is expected that negotiations to free Shalit, who was abducted in a June 2006 cross-border raid, will continue.
A statement released late Monday by the Prime Minister’s Office quoted the two Israelis, Diskin and special envoy Ofer Dekel, negotiating with the Egyptian mediators as saying that “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 despite the generous proposals that had been raised in this round in order to advance and exhaust the negotiations and bring about the soldier’s release.”
Israel reportedly was ready to release all 400 detainees on the Hamas list, but on the condition they leave the region.