Pictures of Shalit at his family home
Pictures of Shalit at his family home Israel News Photo-Flash 90

Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Livni are competing for headlines on kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, indicating a deal may be near for his return. The Prime Minister said that a "terrible price" may have to be paid for his release after he, Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak called for a truce in Gaza without his return.

During Operation Cast Lead, Prime Minister Olmert took pains to say that no public comments should be made on the issue of bringing Shalit back home because too much public discussion often plays into the hands of Hamas negotiators.

However, he broke his own silence Wednesday, stating that while he cannot promise anything, he will make every effort to bring Shalit back home before he leaves office. Cabinet ministers have indicated that Israel will have to meet a large part of Hamas's demands for Israel to free more than 1,000 terrorists and prisoners and open all Gaza crossings as the price for Shalit.

Foreign Minister Livni, visiting Brussels, told reporters that the "crisis" in Gaza continues until Shalit is freed.

Several Cabinet ministers, including at least three Kadima ministers, maintained before the ceasefire that it should not be concluded without securing the freedom of Shalit. However, only two ministers, one from Shas and one from Kadima, voted against the decision to declare a unilateral truce and remove army troops from Gaza.

The truce and withdrawal have left Hamas playing from strength, posing as a victor in the war against its terrorist infrastructure and playing the sympathy card in an appeal to the international community for support.

Its leaders tried to create the impression during the war that it is not concerned with Shalit and does not care if he is dead or alive. He was abducted in June 2006 and is thought to be alive and well, although Hamas has not honored the Geneva Convention that requires allowing the Red Cross to make contact with prisoners of war.

Hamas official Mussa abu Marzuk repeated a ploy it used two weeks ago, speculating that perhaps Shalit was wounded in an Israeli Air Force bombing raid. "First, the Israelis must investigate Shalit's fate. Perhaps they hit him during their bombardment, just as they hit other [soldiers] who had been captured by our fighters," he said.

His claim echoed other Hamas boasts that it captured several Israeli soldiers during the Cast Lead campaign, but the reports have been proven untrue.

Egypt, which acts as mediator between Hamas and Israel, said Wednesday it has no idea of Shalit's fate. "Whether Shalit is alive or not alive, this is a question that needs investigation now," said its Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit. "I have no information, and I believe the Israeli side has no information, either."