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Gilad Shalit exchange to help resume Israel/Palestine talks – Lavrov

October 22, 2011, 22:09 UTC+3

Lavrov said, “I hope that this coordinated exchange, this gesture will help calm down the situation”

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MOSCOW, October 22 (Itar-Tass) — Gilad Shalit’s exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners will facilitate the resumption of talks between Israel and Palestine, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

In an interview with the Vesti V Subbotu news programme on Saturday, Lavrov said, “I hope that this coordinated exchange, this gesture will help calm down the situation and facilitate the resumption of talks between Israel and Palestine.”

According to Lavrov, “every party realises this fact.”

“The fact that we observed in the Middle East and North Africa is conditioned by the unsettlement of this oldest conflict,” the Russian minister said.

“Radical, extremist circles are now trying to catch fish in troubled waters in the Middle East and Africa by relying on the slogans saying one cannot eat the dust in Palestine,” he stressed.

The fulfillment of the Palestinian-Israeli agreement on the exchange of Corporal Gilad Shalit for Palestinian prisoners improves the atmosphere of the bilateral relations, the ministry said.

“We welcome the fulfillment of the swap agreement, which we have lauded earlier,” the ministry said. “We think that the humanitarian dimension of this mutual goodwill gesture is important.”

“We also think that the swap will help improve the general atmosphere in the region and in the Palestinian-Israeli relations,” the ministry said. “The swap give grounds to hope for progress in other sensitive issues through a direct or mediated dialog.”

“Gilad Shalit was transferred to the Israeli side on the Gaza border and met with his family and friends. Simultaneously, the first group of Palestinian prisoners – 477 people – was released in Israel. Another 550 Palestinians will be released in December,” the ministry said.

Gilad Shalit is an Israeli soldier and French national and an IDF soldier who was captured from Israel on June 25, 2006 by Hamas militants in a cross-border raid. Shalit was abducted near the Kerem Shalom crossing (in Israel), and has been held as hostage at an unknown location in the Gaza Strip by Hamas. As of October 11, 2011, it was reported that a deal might soon secure his freedom after more than five years in isolation and captivity, though Shalit has not yet been freed.

Hamas has refused requests from the International Committee of the Red Cross to allow the ICRC to visit Shalit, and claims that any such visit could betray the location where Shalit is being held captive. Multiple human rights organisations have stated that the terms and conditions of Shalit's confinement are contrary to international humanitarian law. To date, the only contact between Shalit and the outside world since his capture has been three letters, an audiotape, and a DVD that Israel received in return for releasing 20 female Palestinian prisoners.

Shalit holds dual French and Israeli citizenship, a fact that encouraged France and the European Union to be involved in efforts to release him from his captors.

In exchange for his release, Hamas is demanding the release of 1,000 prisoners – Palestinians serving prison sentences in Israel – as well as all female and underage Palestinians convicted and serving sentences.

On May 11, 2010, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called for Gilad Shalit to be freed “as soon as possible” during the meeting with the meeting with Hamas leaders in Damascus. “The Russian president urged solving the problem of releasing Israeli citizen Gilad Shalit as soon as possible,” spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said. Russia is the only country that has direct dialogue with Hamas. Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal reportedly said they would only consider releasing the soldier when Israel resumed talks to free Palestinian prisoners.

On October 11, 2011 the Al Arabiya network first reported that Israel and Hamas reached an agreement on Gilad Shalit. Netanyahu convened a special Cabinet meeting to approve the layout of the Shalit deal. Shalit's release negotiations include the possible release of 1,027 Hamas and Palestinian prisoners by Israel.

Meanwhile, U.S. State Department Mark Toner said the Quartet for Mideast (Russia, the U.S., the U.N. and the EU) Peace would hold separate meetings with Palestine and Israel on October 26. The key goal of the meetings is to facilitate the resumption of direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis.

The Quartet on the Middle East, sometimes called the Diplomatic Quartet or Madrid Quartet or simply the Quartet, is a foursome of nations and international and supranational entities involved in mediating the peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Quartet was established in Madrid in 2002 by the Spanish Prime Minister Aznar, as a result of the escalating conflict in the Middle East. Tony Blair is the Quartet's current Special Envoy. The Quartet also believes that security efforts are particularly necessary when enforcing the movement and access regime for Palestinian residents and goods. The international monitors pledged to work with Israel and the international community to prevent the trafficking of arms and ammunition into Gaza. The Quartet confirmed support to indirect talks in order to resume direct bilateral dialogue without preconditions that would allow the parties to solve all questions concerning the final status as was agreed before.

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