Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cairo says Israel, Egypt have no information on Gilad Shalit after 3 week conflict in Gaza

Neither Egypt nor Israel knows whether an Israeli soldier held by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip for two and a half years is alive, Egypt Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said on Wednesday.

Egypt had tried to broker a deal between Israel and Hamas to release Gilad Shalit in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners before Israel began its three-week "Cast Lead" offensive in Gaza on December 27.

According to the Agence France Presse, Mussa Abu Marzuk, deputy head of Hamas politburo, told an Arabic newspaper after the war began that Shalit might have been wounded in Israeli air strikes and that the "subject no longer interests" Hamas.

"Whether Shalit is alive or not alive, this is a question that needs investigation now," Abul Gheit said.

"I have no information and I believe the Israeli side has no information, either," he said.

Israel has said it will not end its blockade of Gaza -- a key Hamas demand and the reason it cites for launching rockets into southern Israel -- unless there is progress on releasing Shalit.

Abul Gheit said the release of Shalit had been an Israeli objective when it agreed to a six-month long truce brokered in June 2008 by Egypt between the Jewish state and Hamas.

Hamas had demanded 1,400 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit. Their list included about 450 prisoners implicated in attacks against Israelis. Israel was reluctant to release prisoners with "blood on their hands."

Israel holds more than 11,000 Palestinian prisoners, the Palestinian Authority says.

Egyptian state-run news agency MENA quoted President Hosni Mubarak as saying in an October interview that Shalit was in good health and Hamas would not harm him.

"Under no circumstances should he be mistreated," he said. "Palestinians are not stupid. They must seriously consider what the consequences would be if they kill him," he said.

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