FM Barak, Deputy Vilnai Head to Egypt

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CBNNews.com - JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai left for Cairo Tuesday to learn what they can about Egypt's negotiations with Hamas concerning the release of captive Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Corporal Gilad Shalit.

Other discussion topics include Israel's temporary truce with Hamas and Cairo's efforts to reduce the arms smuggling from the Egyptian Sinai into the Gaza Strip.

Before leaving, Vilnai told the Israeli daily Haaretz that there's been negligible progress on Shalit's release.

"I had hoped that after two months of a truce [with Hamas], our situation [regarding Shalit's release] would be better," Vilnai said. "Unfortunately, that hasn't happened so far."

In the early stages of negotiations for the temporary truce, Barak said Israel would not agree to the cease-fire outside of Shalit's release. But when Hamas refused to negotiate a prisoner exchange as part of the truce, Barak backed down.

Shalit was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists affiliated with Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) on June 25, 2006. The terrorists tunneled under a security barrier and attacked an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) outpost near the Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza.

The terrorists killed two soldiers, wounded three and kidnapped Shalit, who was also wounded during the attack.

Later, the PRC turned Shalit over to Hamas, which demands the release of between 450 and 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Shalit.

Hamas claims that the cease-fire agreement included re-opening the border crossings to allow a free flow of goods into the Gaza Strip.

Egypt said recently it would not reopen the Rafah border crossing to the Egyptian Sinai until Hamas releases Shalit.

Israel has opened and closed its crossings each time Palestinians fire rockets into southern Israel.

Palestinian terrorists in Gaza have fired upwards of 20 rocket and mortar shells on western Negev communities since the cease-fire began on June 19.

Source: Haaretz

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