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Gazans paid dearly for snatching Israeli: analysts

Israel on Saturday marked five years since the capture of soldier Gilad Shalit amid growing calls for the Islamist Hamas movement to release him or at least provide proof of life

AFP , Saturday 25 Jun 2011
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Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have paid dearly over the five years since resistance fighters snatched a young Israeli soldier, Palestinian and Israeli analysts say. But they also say the Jewish state itself shoulders a "moral burden" in failing to free Gilad Shalit despite all its military might and diplomatic resources.

Shalit was 19 when he was captured in southern Israel on June 25, 2006 by militants including members of the Islamist Hamas who staged a cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip. He has been held there ever since at a secret location.

In response to his abduction, Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza and then tightened it the following year. It also arrested Hamas MPs in the West Bank and carried out deadly air strikes against the movement's activists and premises in Gaza.

A devastating 22-day military offensive against Hamas, which ended in January 2009, was not directly attributed by Israel to the Shalit affair but rather to efforts to halt constant rocket fire from the enclave into southern Israel.

The operation claimed the lives of some 1,400 Palestinians -- more than half civilians -- and 13 Israelis, including 10 soldiers.

Walid al-Mudalal, a professor of history and political science at the Islamic University in Gaza, told AFP that the high price paid by residents of the coastal strip is "a part of resistance against the enemy."
A fellow political scientist, Mukhaimar Abu Saadah of Gaza's Al-Azhar University, says that Israel used Shalit's captivity as a pretext to impose "collective punishment, like the blockade, war, killing and injuring, demolishing and hampering reconciliation" between Hamas and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah movement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came out strongly against a rapprochement between the former bitter rivals, telling Abbas to "tear it up."
Mudalal says, however, that the Israeli government also faces "a moral burden and a political defeat" through its failure so far to return Shalit, to the anger of a broad Israeli consensus demanding his return.
A poll this week showed 63 percent of Israelis in favour of meeting Hamas's demand for the release of 1,000 Palestinians, including 450 with Israeli blood on their hands.

"It will be a moral and material gain for Hamas if the deal is closed, even though Israel will still be able to inflict collective punishment on Gaza," Palestinian political analyst Talal Okal said.

Avi Issacharoff, an Israeli writer who covers Palestinian and Arab affairs for Haaretz newspaper, says that keeping Shalit captive for this long is "a success for Hamas and an obvious failure for the army and intelligence in Israel."

But at the same time, he told AFP, failure to do the deal with Israel would constitute "a political failure for Hamas because of the thousands killed, injured and arrested, and political and economic failure."

A Hamas statement marking the anniversary restated that Shalit would not be freed unless its demands were met in full. "Shalit will not be freed without an honourable exchange deal," Hamas official Ismail Radwan said. "There is no way (to release him) without responding to all the demands."

Talks are deadlocked over Israel's insistence that residents of the West Bank imprisoned for violence against Israelis will not be allowed to return to their homes, where they are close to Israel and to Jewish settlements. Instead, they must go to Gaza or an Arab state.

Issacharoff says the Israeli defence establishment views releasing hundreds of militants into the West Bank as a "security nightmare" and that the government is unlikely to back down.

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