Barak Ravid
July 16, 2008 - 3:22pm

Hamas representatives postponed negotiations with Israel Monday over Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, held captive in the Gaza Strip. The talks were expected to begin this week in Cairo.

Israel believes Hamas is trying to force Egypt to open the Rafah crossing before beginning talks.

A senior Hamas delegation from Gaza and Damascus was expected to arrive Monday in Cairo to meet with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. Ofer Dekel, an envoy of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, was also due in Cairo.

The Egyptians planned to hold intensive talks over Shalit, similar to those currently being held between Israel and Syria through Turkish mediation.

Hamas representatives told officials in Cairo that they "need more time to think."

The Shalit issue was also discussed at a cabinet meeting on Monday.

Minister without Portfolio Ami Ayalon said the case of missing Israeli airman Ron Arad bears a "shocking resemblance" to that of Shalit. Arad has been missing since his plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986. Yesterday, Olmert criticized a report by Hezbollah as "unsatisfactory" in shedding light on his fate.

"The discussion today only heightens the necessity of moving talks forward on the issue of Gilad Shalit," Ayalon said. "What we have learned is that time doesn't work in our favor, and that the price only rises and the dangers only grow."

"We must not rest on our laurels," said Defense Minister Ehud Barak. "We must continue to utilize the window of calm in Gaza to advance negotiations for Shalit's release."

"We have been forced to make difficult decisions here in Jerusalem, and in Gaza," he said.


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