Sunday, December 20, 2009

IDF chief joined top seven cabinet meeting on Shalit deal; Begin and Lieberman shift to undecided

(Ynet, Jpost).IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi on Sunday evening joined the forum of seven senior ministers who convened at the Prime Minister's Office to discuss the price Israel is required to pay as part of a prisoner exchange deal aimed at securing the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.

The discussion appeared to have ended without any decisions, and is expected to resume at 10:30 am Monday.

As the latest inner cabinet meeting continued into Sunday night, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Minister without Portfolio Bennie Begin, two of the three ministers who had initially opposed a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas, shifted to the 'undecided' camp, Channel 1 reported.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has reportedly made clear his opposition to having any prisoners 'with blood on their hands' released to the West Bank.

According to the report, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon was the only member of the inner cabinet to remain opposed to a prisoner swap deal to secure the release of captive IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Intelligence Affairs Minister Dan Meridor and Interior Minister Eli Yishai reportedly continued to be in favor of such a deal.
Shalit's parents, Aviva and Noam, are expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday. Noam Shalit told Ynet that the meeting was scheduled in advance and that he did not know what he was about to hear from Netanyahu.

The meeting was held on the backdrop of reports that the ball is now in Israel's court and that the Palestinian organization was awaiting Netanyahu's response. A series of meeting and consultations were held in the Prime Minister's Office throughout the day, including with members of the intelligence branch.

A state official noted, however, that "a cabinet meeting is unlikely to convene this week" to vote on the matter. Any prisoner exchange deal will have to be brought to the government's approval before being implemented.

Ashkenazi said several weeks ago that "as the army's commander and as the person who sent Gilad Shalit, we will exert every effort in order to complete the mission of bringing Gilad back home. We are making every effort to bring the soldiers back from their missions. Unfortunately, soldiers are injured and also killed, but the IDF does not leave the injured behind."