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New Blow to Shalit: Israel to Release ‘Bargaining Chips’

In a new blow to Gilad Shalit – the Israeli soldier being held by Hamas since June 2006 – and his family, Israel will release the Hamas officials who were arrested to serve as bargaining chips to aid in securing Shalit’s release. Dozens of Hamas officials, including eight ministers in the Palestinian government aligned with Hamas and 20 members of the Palestine Legislative Council, were detained by Israel four days after Shalit’s capture. Several of the most senior Hamas officials being held have already been released. The rest will be concluding their sentences and the Israeli government will make no effort to extend their incarceration, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz. Family and many citizens-at-large are accusing the government of insufficient efforts to repatriate Shalit. They point to the truce deal that was concluded with Hamas without Shalit’s return being part of it, and the planned extension of the cease-fire even though rockets are again being fired into Israel from Gaza virtually every day. A proposed prisoner swap has become bogged down over a list of 350 prisoners demanded by the Palestinians whom Israel will not set free because of the heinous nature of their crimes. On Sunday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will ask his cabinet to approve the release of 250 Palestinian prisoners as a "goodwill gesture" to Palestinian leader Mahmoud ‘Abbas on the eve of the Muslim holiday of ‘Id Al-A’dha. Several ministers are known to oppose the proposal, arguing that it is inappropriate to offer more gestures that do not include Shalit’s return.