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Take me, free my son, father pleads

Published January 11, 2007


JERUSALEM - The father of a captured Israeli soldier confronted one of his son's captors in a dramatic joint radio appearance Wednesday - pleading with the Hamas-linked militants to release his boy and take him instead.

The militants rejected the plea from Noam Shalit, saying the soldier will be freed only when Israel releases large numbers of Palestinian prisoners.

Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 20, was captured in a June 25 raid by militants who tunneled under the Gaza-Israel border and attacked an Israeli army post, killing two soldiers and taking Shalit with them.

Negotiations through Egyptian mediators have failed to win his freedom, with the two sides blaming each other for the breakdown.

Frustrated by the six-month stalemate, the elder Shalit said that if his son's captors sought assurances, he was willing to offer himself up as collateral until a deal could be secured.

"I, myself, am prepared to be guarantor for this and, if needed, I am prepared to travel to the Gaza Strip, and to stay with Hamas' security forces until all of their demands are answered," said Shalit, 52.

After the radio appearance, Shalit told the Associated Press: "If I could switch places with him, I would gladly do so."

Shalit faced off against Abu Mujahid, the representative of the kidnappers, on Radio All For Peace, an independent station run by both Jews and Arabs in Israel.

Abu Mujahid assured Shalit that his son was well and was not being tortured.

Shalit spoke in Hebrew and Abu Mujahid in Arabic. Their words were translated to each other by the moderator.

OLMERT MAY BE QUESTIONED: Jacob Galanti, an aide to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said Wednesday the Israeli leader had no knowledge of reported police plans to question him about allegations he gave favors to business associates in the 2005 privatization of a major Israeli bank. The Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported that Attorney General Meni Mazuz had ordered police to interview Olmert next week, after he returns from a trip to China. Other Israeli media reported that authorities are expected to open a criminal investigation against Olmert.

BARAK LEADS LABOR RIVALS: Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who announced his return to politics this week, enjoys a wide lead over the Labor Party's current leader and would win the party's leadership race if elections were held today, according to a poll published in an Israeli daily Wednesday. The Maariv poll said Barak has the support of 30 percent of Labor members, compared with 12 percent for the current leader, Defense Minister Amir Peretz. Barak's closest challenger would be Ami Ayalon, a former director of the Shin Bet security agency, who got 23 percent.




[Last modified January 11, 2007, 01:14:59]

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