Israel's chief negotiator in talks to secure the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held captive in Gaza since 2006, has announced he is stepping down.
Haggai Hadas, who was appointed to the role in 2009 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said he was stepping down for personal reasons -- his wife is reportedly going abroad for a sabbatical.
"I have not resigned," he said in a statement issued by Netanyahu's office. "I told the prime minister when I took this job that I would only be able to do it for two years because of family obligations," he added.
But some Israeli media commentators speculated that Hadas's resignation was a sign of frustration at Israel's failure to secure Shalit's release.
"True, Hadas's wife is leaving overseas for a sabbatical and this indeed is the 'personal reason' he has cited. But there is great doubt that this is the main reason," wrote commentator Alex Fishman in Yediot Aharonot newspaper.
"The main reason is that nothing is actually going on with the prisoner exchange negotiations."
Militant group Hamas, which took control of the Gaza Strip a year after Shalit's capture, has demanded hundreds of prisoners in exchange for his release, including scores of top militants responsible for deadly attacks.
But talks have stalled, with Netanyahu warning that militants released under previous prisoner exchanges have gone on to carry out deadly attacks on Israel.
Fishman blamed Netanyahu for holding up a deal to secure Shalit's release.
"On the one hand he has refused to decide in favour of the deal, and on the other hand is refusing to decide on other courses of action. Thus, the situation could remain in a stalemate for generations to come," he wrote.
"And this is most likely the main reason Hadas decided to leave."
In his statement Hadas said he "completely supported" Netanyahu's handling of the case.
Netanyahu has come under increasing criticism for his government's failure to secure Shalit's release in talks, which have been mediated by Germany.
On Monday, a former head of Israel's Shin Bet security agency said Israel should be prepared to release Palestinians convicted of murder if that was necessary to secure Shalit's release.
But all signs suggest that negotiations over Shalit's release have ground to a halt.
Germany's Spiegel news magazine reported on Monday that "German efforts to negotiate the release of Shalit... appear to have failed."
Earlier this week, Israel's Channel 10 news reported that Red Cross officials met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Syria and asked him to furnish proof that Shalit is alive.
The last sign of life received from Shalit's captors was in October 2009 when a video recording showed him looking gaunt, but apparently in good health.