A new ultimatum issued by resistance groups holding an Israeli soldier captive demanded the release of 1,000 of the over 8,000 Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel – including women, children, party leaders and prisoners who are sick, elderly or disabled.
"We are declaring to the public our just and humanitarian demands," said the statement faxed to news agencies by the Qassam Brigades, the Popular Resistance Committees and the Army of Islam, the three groups claiming responsibility for holding the Israeli soldier. This is the second statement released by the groups – the first demanded the release of only women and children prisoners.
The groups also demanded an end to the ongoing Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip.
Although Israeli officials did not immediately comment on the new statement, their previous stance has been that they would not release any prisoners in exchange for the soldier.
In response to a proposed release of the soldier negotiated with Palestinian resistance groups by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Thursday, Gideon Meir, a senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official, said, "In general Israel’s stance is as the prime minister said earlier, that the soldier will only be released unconditionally and there will be no negotiations with a gang of terrorists and criminals who abducted a soldier from Israeli territory. There is nothing to talk with them about."
However some in Israeli political circles, such as Uri Avnery, a former Israeli Parliament member, said in an interview with the IMEMC, "Such prisoner exchanges have happened in the past. It is possible – it doesn’t have to be a public exchange of prisoners, it can be a deal made privately, so none of the parties have to lose face in public."
But Avnery was not hopeful that such an exchange would in fact take place, saying that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the ruling Kadima party would be more likely to use full-scale military force to attack Gaza, which he says would likely result in the death of the captured soldier.
An Israeli settler captured by Palestinian resistance fighters on Monday was found dead Wednesday, with the Popular Resistance Committees claiming responsibility, saying the settler was killed due to the fact that Israeli forces did not call off an offensive into Gaza, and have continued to pound the residents of the Gaza Strip with 3-500 artillery shells a day, as well as ongoing air strikes on infrastructure such as bridges and power plants.
Palestinian representatives to the United Nations urged the U.N. Security Council on Friday to press Israel to quickly end its offensive, but the United States said Syria and Iran must first end their role as "state sponsors of terror" and condemn Hamas militants.