German negotiator Gerhard Konrad has renewed talks in Gaza with Hamas terrorists for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, held hostage since he was abducted in a cross-border raid near the Kerem Shalom Crossing in June 2006.
Konrad allegedly traveled to Gaza three weeks ago to negotiate with Hamas over a new deal for Shalit's release, according to a Channel 2
television report quoted by the Gaza-based Quds News Agency
. Egypt allegedly remains involved as the second partner in mediation efforts to broker a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and the terrorist group for Shalit's freedom.
In an interview with the London-based Arabic-language daily newspaper Al-Hayat
, Hamas official Musa Abu Marzouk confirmed that talks had resumed two weeks ago with the German negotiator.
A similar report was denied earlier in the week in an interview with Voice of Israel government radio by senior Hamas official Mahmoud a-Zahar.
Shalit campaign activist Shimshon Liebman told reporters, however, that the soldier's family had not been informed of any prisoner swap deals between Israel and Hamas. “If there was such a visit... it shows a real effort by the mediator... but the days are passing and Gilad is still in captivity.”
Shalit's father Noam said he had no idea whether the German negotiator had been to Gaza or not: “The Prime Minister's Office knows everything. I cannot confirm or deny anything.”
Numerous deals have been reported to having come close to an agreement in the past several years, only to fall through at the last minute, with Hamas backing out when Israel refused to hand over a list of top-ten terrorists. Israel has, in the past, agreed to free up to 1,000
terrorist prisoners, including many with blood on their hands.
Those which the Jewish State has refused to free
are serving multiple life sentences for murderous attacks on numerous citizens.
Building Resumes in Jerusalem
by Maayana Miskin
The Housing Ministry has approved the construction of 240 homes in northern Jerusalem, after several months with no construction in Jewish neighborhoods east of the 1949 armistice line. While there was no official Jerusalem building freeze, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu assured Israelis that there would be no Jerusalem freeze, in practice, no new building permits were issued for some time.
The new Jerusalem homes will be built in the neighborhoods of Ramot and Pisgat Zeev. They were approved along with more than 3,700 housing units elsewhere in the country.
Major construction projects were approved in Netanya, Ashdod, and Tel Aviv, which are expected to get 1,100, 480, and 450 new housing units respectively. Housing Minister Ariel Attias (Shas) said his ministry is working to close the gap between demand and supply, particularly in central Israel.
Members of Knesset Zeev Elkin (Likud) and Aryeh Eldad (Ichud Leumi – National Union) of the Knesset Lobby for the Land of Israel welcomed the step to resume building, but warned that it would not be enough. “The capital of Israel and its 700,000 residents need many more housing units just to meet the minimal demands of natural growth,” they said. “The Lobby insists that thousands more units be built, in both Israel's capital and Judea and Samaria.”
While Jerusalem has historically been a Jewish city, many Jerusalem neighborhoods fell into Jordanian hands in the 1948 War of Independence. They remained under Jordanian occupation until 1967, when Israel won the Six Day War. Formerly occupied neighborhoods in eastern, northern and southern Jerusalem were soon officially annexed, and the united city became Israel's capital again.
The Palestinian Authority and Arab countries reject Israel's claim to Jerusalem and have demanded that all parts of the city that were once under Jordanian control be given to the PA to be used as the capital of a new Arab state. The PA's seat of power is currently in Ramallah.
Under the Obama administration, the United States has largely backed PA demands, and has criticized Israel
for allowing Jews to build new homes throughout the city.
United States officials claimed in May that Netanyahu had given in to demands and had agreed not to build
new Jewish homes in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo for two years. Netanyahu denied the report.
France, Russia and the U.S. are calling on Israel to freeze construction in all areas of Jerusalem claimed by the Palestinian Authority for its hoped-for state.
The French Foreign Ministry expressed “deep disappointment” Saturday over a municipal decision to move ahead with the sale of 240 plots of land in the neighborhoods of Ramot and Pisgat Ze'ev. Both neighborhoods are located on the northern edge of the capital.
The Israel Lands Authority and the Housing Ministry together this week announced the sale of a total of 4,000 plots for the construction of housing units, only 240 of which were in Ramot and Pisgat Ze'ev.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero expressed concern that the approval of the tenders would damage chances of renewing direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. “France calls on the Israeli government to reconsider the decision,” he said.
Valero's statement echoed a similar statement made Friday by U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who said the Obama administration was “disappointed by the announcement of new tenders... It is contrary to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.”
Russia also stated its displeasure over Jerusalem's decision to move ahead with plans to build more housing for its residents. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reportedly wrote on the country's government website, “The Israeli government's plans are perceived with extreme concern and disappointment in Moscow. They contradict international efforts aimed at the resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. We consider it important that the sides avoid unilateral actions which may affect the fate of settlements.”
However, U.S. Representative Gary Ackerman (D-NY), meanwhile, bluntly expressed his strong support for Israel's right to build housing in its capital.
“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” said Ackerman, chairman of the U.S. Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. “It is not a settlement. As such, the resumption of construction in Jerusalem is not a justification for a crisis, a showdown, a meltdown or even hissy fit.”
Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Ramot, Pisgat Ze'ev, French Hill, Ramat Eshkol, Gilo and others, which have been home to tens of thousands of residents for more than 40 years, are referred to as “settlements” by the PA .