Gilad Shalit's release has given Hamas a boost, says Tzipi Livni

The Guardian-9 years before

Her criticism, expressed on Sunday, came as Ahmed Jabari, the commander of Hamas's military wing, said the organisation would make further moves to kidnap Israeli soldiers to use as bargaining chips for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

"We will continue to abduct Israeli soldiers and officers as long as there are Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails," he was quoted as saying.

Livni's remarks signalled a debate about the merits of the prisoner swap following last week's euphoria over Shalit's return to Israel and the release of 477 Palestinian prisoners with a further...550 to follow in the next two months. It will be fuelled by a review examining how Israel deals with kidnappings.

Israel The review was ordered by the defence minister, Ehud Barak, four years ago and is expected to report in the next two weeks.

Livni broke her silence over the deal to say: "Must we secure the release of Israeli captives at all costs? It remains obvious to me that the answer is negative, but when the people of Israel are engulfed in the Gilad Shalit reality TV show, attentiveness to this issue is lacking."

The deal had doubled the strength of Hamas, Livni said in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's biggest-selling daily. "An extreme rightwing government has provided legitimacy for Hamas … The point is that Israel is today weaker and Hamas stronger‚ and no one can dispute this fact."

Hamas The position of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, had been correspondingly weakened, she added. "Instead of conducting negotiations with moderate forces, with whom a settlement could be attained … [the government] undermines Abu Mazen's legitimacy."

She told the newspaper that the previous government, of which she was a member, had turned down a prisoner exchange deal to secure Shalit's release. "A decision to leave Gilad Shalit in captivity is far harder than reaching a decision to have him released," she said.

The deal, brokered by Egypt between Israel and Hamas, had overwhelming support among the Israeli public, for whom Shalit had become a unifying symbol. It was also hugely popular in Gaza and the West Bank, where the issue of prisoners resonates widely.

Barak, speaking about the imminent report of the Shamgar committee, appointed to recommend guidelines for Israel concerning future abductions, said: "This issue needs a profound change."

Immediately after Shalit's release, the defence minister said the price had been "painful", adding: "We will have to think about how we deal with captured soldiers in the future."

On Sunday he told the newspaper Israel Hayom: "We can't ignore the fact that a single abduction produced the return of over 1,000 terrorists … it is Hamas's sense that if we gave up 1,000, we can be compelled to give up 8,000, and that therefore they must undertake further abductions. We will obviously move to check this trend."

The former defence minister Amir Peretz disclosed that a deal to free Shalit was reached in 2006, a fortnight after the capture of the soldier, who was then 19, but that "something went awry" so it fell through. He urged Israel, in the second stage of prisoner releases, to free Marwan Barghouti, a popular and influential Fatah leader who is serving five life sentences.

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