Gaza crossings to stay shut until Israeli soldier is freed

February 16th, 2009 - 5:10 am ICT by IANS  

Jerusalem, Feb 16 (DPA) Israel will not agree to open the crossing points into the Gaza Strip until an Israeli soldier held captive in the salient for two-and-a-half years has been released, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday night.

“We will not allow the opening of the crossings to Gaza, to the extent that it will bring life back to normal, certainly not before Gilad Shalit is home,” he said.

Israel shut the crossing points into the Gaza Strip after the Islamic Hamas movement seized control of the salient in June 2007, and has allowed only limited humanitarian aid into the enclave.

Hamas is demanding the crossings be opened as part of a truce Egypt is trying to broker between the Islamist organisation and Israel.

The movement also wants hundreds of militants freed from Israeli jails in return for releasing Shalit, who was snatched in a cross-border on June 25, 2006 and has been held virtually incommunicado in somewhere in the Strip since then.

Olmert conceded Sunday night that Israel would have to free many militants in return for Shalit.

Earlier Sunday Olmert met with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defence Minister Ehud Barak to formulate a decision to be brought later this week to the inner, security cabinet, regarding Shalit.

Saturday Olmert’s office released a statement saying that Israel would not enter into a truce with Hamas until Shalit was freed.

The statement also denied persistent reports that Israel is currently negotiating a truce with Hamas.

Egypt has been mediating a ceasefire between the two parties since the end four weeks ago, of Israel’s 22-day military offensive against militants in the Gaza Strip.

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