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Israel wants soldier freed in Gaza truce

Hamas contends the captive is a separate case. Militants kill one in a rocket attack.

May 13, 2008|From the Chicago Tribune

JERUSALEM — An Egyptian envoy presented Israeli leaders Monday with a cease-fire proposal hammered out with Hamas, but they responded that any deal must be linked to the release of an Israeli soldier held by the Palestinian militant group, officials said.

As the mediator, Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, ended his talks with the Israelis, militants in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket that killed a 70-year-old woman in southern Israel, the second fatal rocket attack in less than a week. The militant group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.

The rocket hit the farming community of Moshav Yesha, about nine miles from the Gaza Strip. Two rockets hit the city of Ashkelon earlier in the day but caused no casualties.

According to the plan Suleiman presented, a six-month cease-fire would include a halt to rocket attacks from Gaza and to Israeli military strikes there, and a subsequent lifting of the blockade on the territory. Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in June, dropped a demand that the truce also apply to the West Bank.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and other top Israeli officials told Suleiman that a cease-fire package would have to be linked to the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the soldier seized in a cross-border raid by Hamas and two allied groups in June 2006, officials said.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak also demanded that Egypt put an end to arms smuggling across its border with Gaza, according to a statement from Barak's office.

In Gaza, Ahmad Youssef, an advisor to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, said: "We absolutely reject a cease-fire in exchange for Shalit. Shalit is a separate case."

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