|The release of Shalit, second from right, robs Israel of a major justification for the blockade on Gaza [Reuters]
With the recent agreement between Israel and Hamas to swap more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, many commentators have argued that Israeli has lost one of its key reasons to keep the siege on the Gaza Strip in place.
It has even been suggested that lifting the blockade against the coastal enclave was part of the deal that was struck between Israel and Hamas.
Over the last years of his captivity, Israeli politicians have increasingly used Shalit’s case as a justification for maintaining the siege.
Below are a selection of quotes by Israeli politicians linking the blockade to the release of the soldier:
Shimon Peres: On June 20, 2010, the Israeli president linked the lifting of the siege with both the release of Shalit and "the renunciation of terrorism".
"The day Palestinian leaders in Gaza renounce terrorism, release Gilad Shalit, stop firing missiles and halt their attempts to kidnap Israeli soldiers, the continuity of the security cordon imposed on the Gaza Strip won't be needed."
Binyamin Netanyahu: The current Israeli prime minister has said that if the blockade against Gaza ended, ships would bring in thousands of missiles from Iran to be aimed at Israel and beyond, creating what he said would be an Iranian port on the Mediterranean.
"If they [the Middle East Quartet] claim that a new wind is blowing from Hamas, that could be proven by freeing Gilad Shalit."
In defending Israel’s deadly raid on the Turkish flotilla ship Mavi Marama in May 2010, Netanyahu said: "This was not the Love Boat. It was a hate boat … these weren't pacifists, these weren't peace activists, they were violent supporters of terrorism."
Avigdor Lieberman: Linking Shalit’s release and the lifting of the Gaza blockade, the Israeli foreign minister said in June 2010: "It can't be possible that Israel will allow massive amounts of merchandise to enter the Gaza Strip at the same time that Gilad is rotting in a Hamas cellar."
Ehud Olmert: In February 2009, Israel’s then prime minister told US Middle East envoy George Mitchell that the economic blockade of Gaza cannot be lifted without the release of Shalit.
"We want first to resolve the Shalit issue and then will look into the reopening of crossings and the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip."