The Missing Israeli Soldier

Every year around this time, Israeli authorities draw up a list of Palestinian prisoners to be released at the end of Ramadan.

It is usually a goodwill gesture on Israel's part, but there appears to be little goodwill this year.

That is because Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is still missing.

The 20-year-old was taken on June 25 by Palestinian militants in a brazen cross-border raid on an Israeli guard post.

Shalit is most likely being held somewhere in the Gaza Strip.

Despite Israel's sophisticated surveillance technology, the Israeli intelligence community appears frustrated.

One report in a British paper reports Israeli intelligence has even hired a mother of three to work as a medium.

The Israeli army responded, saying the unit responsible for searching for Shalit only "uses such sources as intelligence information, testimonies and items found on the scene."

If the Israeli army knew or even suspected where Shalit was being held, Israeli commandos likely would stage a daring raid to rescue him.

There seems to be little doubt Shalit was taken by Hamas, but the Hamas prime minister in Gaza says Shalit's fate is not in his hands.

Most believe it is Khaleed Misha'l, the exiled Hamas chief based in Damascus, Syria, who ordered the operation.

Palestinians are much more concerned about their people in Israeli prisons.

There are about 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails, and it is estimated at one time or another, 500,000 Palestinians have spent time in Israeli custody.

Many Palestinians are shocked that Israel and much of the international community have made such a big deal over Shalit, one Israeli soldier, when few have paid any attention to the Palestinians in Israeli jails.

Now Shalit is being used as a bargaining chip for many different Palestinian demands.

Most recently, one Palestinian official said if Misha'l was allowed by Israel back into Gaza only then would Shalit be released.

The Egyptian foreign minister, who has helped in mediation, said the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners would be a workable deal.

In the austere Hamas offices in Gaza, Ahmed Yousef, an adviser to the Hamas prime minister, says that before any prisoner release or prisoner exchange happens, there must be a new unity government in the Palestinian territories.

Despite weeks of talks between Palestinian factions, that government remains elusive.

None of this is any comfort to Noam Shalit, Gilad's father who has been increasing pressure on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to secure his son's release at any cost.

His family has been waiting five months for his return.