Signs of new effort to free Israeli held in Gaza

The German mediator trying to broker the release of an Israeli soldier held captive for four years by Palestinian militants made a secret visit to the Gaza Strip.

Last Updated: Oct 16, 2010, 21:26 PM IST

Gaza City: The German
mediator trying to broker the release of an Israeli soldier
held captive for four years by Palestinian militants made a
secret visit to the Gaza Strip, a senior Hamas official said
today, suggesting a renewed attempt to push forward
negotiations deadlocked for months.

Hamas official Osama Mazeini described the German`s
trip as a "feeler visit", but he would not say whom the
mediator met with or how long he stayed. The London-based
Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat said he visited two weeks ago.

Hamas-backed militants from Gaza seized Sgt Gilad
Schalit in a cross-border raid in 2006.

The militant group is leading the negotiations,
demanding the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners
from Israeli jails in exchange for the soldier. Those
prisoners include top-level Hamas militants who oversaw or
planned attacks that killed Israelis in years of fighting.

Israeli officials have so far refused to release them,
arguing that doing so would put more people in danger.

Secretive negotiations mediated by Egypt and later
Germany have failed to produce results.

Israelis have emotionally cleaved over pursuing an
exchange. Some argue Israeli officials must do their utmost to
ensure the safety of soldiers in a society where military duty
is mandatory. Others say the potential danger of freed
high-level militants to Israeli society is of greater concern
than the life of one soldier.

There are around 7,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails.

Most Palestinians have a relative or know someone who served
prison time in Israel for reasons ranging from throwing stones
at Israeli soldiers to masterminding militant attacks that
killed civilians.

Their release is one of the most emotional issues in
Palestinian society, and the families of prisoners have waited
for a deal that would see their loved ones released.

PTI