Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Israel-Hamas Deal on Gilad Shalit Won't Include an End to Gaza Blockade

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Israel-Hamas Deal on Gilad Shalit Won't Include an End to Gaza Blockade

Article excerpt

An Israel-Hamas prisoner exchange deal involving captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit may be imminent. But Gazans are disappointed that Israel's economic blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip has been taken off the negotiating table.

Israel is abuzz with a flurry of media reports on a possibly imminent

prisoner exchange that could return captured Israeli soldier Gilad

Shalit to his parents after more than three years of captivity under

Hamas. The deal would also release up to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners,

but Gazans are dismayed that a major condition Israel had previously

said was linked to any Shalit deal now appears to be missing from the

negotiations: Israel's two-year economic blockade on the Gaza

Strip.

Israel first tightened control of the tiny Palestinian enclave's

borders in the aftermath of Sgt. Shalit's capture in June 2006 -

when Palestinian fighters seized the then 19-year-old corporal in a

brazen cross-border raid - and completely closed its crossings with

Gaza when Hamas violently ousted its rival Fatah in June 2007.

Since then, Israeli government officials have repeatedly said that

any easing of the siege, which prohibits all commercial imports and

exports into and from the territory, and severely limits travel for

Palestinians, would depend on Hamas's unconditional release of the

soldier.

"The crossings [...] are operating at a minimum to prevent a

humanitarian crisis in Gaza," an Israeli political source told the

Israeli daily Haaretz at a cabinet briefing earlier this year,

according to the paper. "And they [the crossings] will remain so

until Gilad Shalit is released."

But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told reporters in Gaza earlier

this month that Israel's blockade of the territory now has nothing

to do with a possible Shalit deal. Israeli officials recently

confirmed that lifting the blockade would not be part of any

exchange.

The blockade has crushed the Gazan economy and forced 80 percent of

Gaza's 1.5 million people to rely on food aid, according to the

United Nations.

'We know Shalit is not the main reason for the blockade'The omission

of the blockade from any deal has hampered the optimism of Gazans,

who had hoped their economic plight would lessen with Shalit's

release. …

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