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Monday, April 18, 2011

Senior Mossad official named new negotiator in Shalit swap talks

Aviva and Noam Shalit with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.

Netanyahu names David Meidan as new Israeli representative to Shalit prisoner exchange talks with Hamas following the recent resignation of former envoy Hagai Hadas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday appointed senior Mossad official David Meidan as the new Israeli mediator to negotiate the release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, following the recent resignation of former mediator Hagai Hadas.

Hadas, who has been negotiating via a German mediator for a prisoner exchange with the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip for two years, denied earlier this week Channel 2 reports that he was resigning out of personal considerations and said he had accepted the post on the basis of a timely contract.

The Prime Minister's Office said that Netanyahu has long been aware of Hadas' plans to leave his post and that the decision had no connection to details of the negotiations themselves.

Netanyahu's office relayed that Meidan has been serving as the head of a senior department in the Mossad. During that role, he has been involved in a number of operations, some of which were connected to Gilad Shalit.

Sunday's appointment of Meidan as the new negotiator was announced during a meeting between Netanyahu and Aviva and Noam Shalit, Gilad's parents.

Prior to the meeting between Shalit's parents and Netanyahu, an official at the Prime Minister's Office said that the premier was to "tell the family that he wanted to avoid a vacuum" following Hadas' resignation, adding that he was "continuing the efforts to free Gilad."

Hamas has been insistent in its demand that some 1,400 prisoners be released from Israeli jails in return for handing over the Shalit.

Israel has balked at a number of the names on Hamas' list - which includes some responsible for deadly terror attacks in Israel - agreeing to free around 980 prisoners.

Negotiations have stalled numerous times. Hamas last year accused Israel of changing its stance over points to which it had already agreed. Hamas sources have said that Israel is delaying the completion of the Shalit deal by refusing to release 50 Hamas officials it holds in its jails.

Shalit family considers stepping up public campaign

The Shalit family has been reportedly considering an change of course in its efforts to pressure the government into reaching a deal that would secure their son's release.

One of the moves being considered is a sit down in front of the actual entrance to the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, instead of the protest tent in which they now reside.

The Shalits are expected to hold their annual Passover Seder in the protest tent, with many expected to join the family as they mark the fifth Passover the family has had to celebrate without Gilad.

On Sunday, Noam and Aviva Shalit protested along with dozens of activists outside the Prime Minister's Office during the weekly cabinet meeting.

Some of the ministers opted to pull over and meet the family, prompting some of the activists to accuse them of turning the issue of Shalit's release into a political one.

Aviva Shalit even broke her characteristic clam demeanor, telling Minister of Agriculture Orit Noked: "We've had our fill of sympathy and support. Do whatever you can to bring Gilad back home."

"The few [ministers] that pass through here express their empathy. We need them to pound on the table. We don't need empathy, we need Gilad," Shalit said.

Reverting their criticism to Netanyahu, the Shalits said the premier was attempting to intimidate the public when discussing the expected price of a prisoner exchange deal, saying: "The prime minister's intimidations are unacceptable."

"People aren't stupid. They understand his brainwashing," the Shalit couple said.