CAIRO: Egypt s foreign ministry spokesman says Israel s latest demand that a captured Israeli soldier be released before a long-term Gaza truce deal with Hamas is struck is a blow to Egyptian mediation efforts between the two sides.
Hossam Zaki says linking Sgt. Gilad Schalit – captured in a 2006 raid by Hamas-linked militants and held in Gaza since – to the truce will hinder any chances for a cease-fire.
Israel announced on Wednesday it won t open Gaza Strip s blockaded border crossings – a key Hamas demand – until Schalit is freed.
The Palestinian group, which runs Gaza, condemned the announcement.
Hamas wants the blockade lifted so it can start repairing destruction from Israel s military offensive on the area last month.
On Wednesday Israel s pointman in talks with Egypt on a Gaza truce has lashed out at Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for linking the issue to the release of captive Israeli soldier, a report said on Wednesday.
Amos Gilad, the senior defense ministry official who has been shuttling between Israel and Egypt for weeks, said requiring the freeing of Gilad Shalit for a Gaza ceasefire at the last moment risked alienating key ally Cairo.
I don t understand what it is that they re trying to do, the Maariv daily quoted Gilad as telling a close associate. To insult the Egyptians? We ve already insulted them. It s madness. It s simply madness. Egypt has remained almost our last ally here.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said in statements published Tuesday that the fate of an Israeli soldier captured in 2006 should not be linked to Cairo-mediated talks on a long-term truce with Hamas in Gaza.
Egypt will not change its position on the truce, the matter of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is a separate issue which can in no way be linked to the truce negotiations, the state-owned Al-Ahram daily quoted Mubarak as saying. -Agencies