Freedom for Shalit - and Terrorists - Anticipated Yet Again

The upcoming meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Egyptian President Mubarak has sparked hope that Gilad Shalit will be freed - as well as fears that 1,400 terrorists will also go free.

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Hillel Fendel, | updated: 11:53

Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Abu Al-Gheit told the Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat today that he is "cautiously optimistic" about the Israeli-PA diplomatic track, given Olmert's meeting last week with Abu Mazen and his upcoming talk with Mubarak.

Olmert and Mubarak are set to meet this Thursday in Sharm el-Sheih, at the southern tip of the Sinai Desert. Since being handed over to Egypt as part of the 1982 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, Sharm el-Sheikh has served as the site of several summit meetings between Israeli and Arab leaders.

Al-Gheit said Olmert appears to be willing to work to "extend the [Gaza] ceasefire to the West Bank as well." The ceasefire in question has been violated by Palestinian terrorists with an average of more than two rockets a day since it was agreed upon five weeks ago. More than ten rockets were fired over the weekend.

Corp. Shalit was captured just over six months ago by Hamas terrorists who tunneled into an Israeli army base near Gaza.

It has been widely reported for weeks that an agreement on the issue is nearly finalized, with Shalit to be freed in exchange for 1,400 Palestinian terrorists held in Israeli prisons. Spokesmen for Hamas said just today that a deal could happen "very soon." This is a prospect that incenses and frightens many Israelis.

The Almagor Terror-Victims Association, for instance, has presented statistics showing that previous terrorist releases have cost Israel dearly. "122 Israelis were killed in at least 14 terrorist attacks perpetrated by terrorists who were released in the past ten years," the organization states. In addition, hundreds were murdered or wounded by some of the 1,160 terrorists freed in the famous Jibril exchange of 1986.

Olmert Changes Position Again
Over the weekend, Olmert decided not to release any terrorist prisoners for the Id al-Adha holiday, which occurred this weekend. In fact, he said that no prisoners would be released at all before Gilad Shalit is returned home safe and sound.

Olmert thus replaces his previous flip-flop on the matter with this latest flop-flip. Just last Sunday morning, he told the Cabinet: "We've freed prisoners for the Id el-Adha holiday before; I see no reason not to do it this year too. It could be that this is a change of my past position."

Adding to the confusion was a Voice of Israel Radio weekend report that Hamas is now willing to accept only 500 terrorist prisoners in exchange for Shalit's release. The report has not been confirmed.

Egypt and Shalit
Egypt would like to see the Gilad Shalit story ended, and has made public statements coaxing Hamas to agree. Al-Gheit told the London-based paper that the deal will be finalized when "those holding Shalit" are ready to agree.

"I cannot understand at all why the captive is still being held," Al-Gheit said, explaining that it is causing "terrible suffering to the Palestinian people." He said that the motivation for capturing Shalit was simply to stop the diplomatic process with Israel.