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      Will IDF Withdraw With or Without Shalit?

      Politicians have raised voices to demand Shalit's release as part of any ceasefire agreement. He was the only Jew in Gaza before Cast Lead began.
      By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
      First Publish: 1/14/2009, 12:39 PM

      Israel News Photo: Flash 90

      Politicians are beginning to raise their voices to demand that the Olmert administration condition any ceasefire in Gaza with the return of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit to his home.

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      The soldier was the only Jew in Gaza since Hamas and allied terrorists abducted him in June, 2006, less than a year after the government expelled all Jewish residents from the Gaza region.

      Kadima and Labor leaders, most prominently then-Vice Prime Minister President Shimon Peres, said at the time of the expulsion that Jews never would return to Gaza. Among the Jewish soldiers who entered Gaza last week were several troops who had been expelled from their Gush Katif homes, and one of their first actions was to plant an Israeli flag on the ruins of their former homes.

      Armored Corps Captain Mike Sharvit said earlier this week that all of his troops speak about the opportunity to bring back Shalit. "We all talk about it. We want him to come back with us," he said.
       
      Politicians also are talking. Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann (Kadima) declared that the government must not agree to withdraw from Gaza without Shalit.
       
      The public also is behind him. A recent poll revealed that 76.5 percent of respondents oppose an agreement without the soldier's return.
      A recent poll revealed that 76.5 percent of respondents oppose an agreement without the soldier's return.

      The Olmert administration has totally ignored the subject, at least in public, and Hamas also has not mentioned Shalit except to say it no longer cares about him. The statement was considered to be a propaganda ploy.

      The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has not made contact with Shalit since his abduction, but he is thought to be alive and well. In another propaganda move, an Arab source claimed two weeks ago that Shalit was wounded during an IDF bombing, but the claim was not verified and subsequently was dropped.

      Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's only comment on the issue has been to say that he has been in contact with the Shalit family. After the soldier was kidnapped in a raid on an IDF crossing, the Prime Minister announced he would not sit down and negotiate with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas until Shalit's release.

      After returning to the negotiating table while the soldier remained in captivity, Hamas seized control over Gaza. Prime Minister Olmert has negotiated at least two ceasefires with Egyptian mediators. He told the Cabinet last July that the truce that began June 19 was conditioned on bringing Shalit back to Israel, but no progress was made despite Israel's honoring the agreement.