Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is prepared to release 1000 Palestinian security prisoners to free Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held captive in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip for over four years.
"The state of Israel is willing to pay a heavy price for the release of Gilad Shalit but we are not able to say it will be any price," he said.
Netanyhau said he was willing "to release a thousand prisoners" to secure the soldier's release as part of a prisoner swap deal with Hamas, the Islamist rulers of Gaza.
That is the price that I am willing to pay for the release of Gilad Shalit," he said in a televised address some four years after the soldier was snatched in a cross-border raid.
In a live address to the country, Netanyahu said all Israelis wanted Shalit back safely but the nation could not "pay any price" because past experience showed that many Palestinians released had returned to carry out attacks on Israelis.
In a campaign to pile pressure on the government to negotiate their son's release, the Shalit family on Sunday began a march on Jerusalem with their supporters and said they would camp outside the prime minister's office until Shalit came home.
Hamas wants Israel to release hundreds of prisoners, including several top militants responsible for killing scores of Israelis, but Israel has balked at some of the more notorious names on the list.
"The decision to release prisoners is difficult and complicated," insisted Netanyahu, arguing that many prisoners freed in earlier swap deals over the last 25 years had carried out further deadly attacks after being released.
"We're not just talking about saving people, we're talking about endangering people," he said.
We're not just talking about saving people, we're talking about endangering people
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Talks with Shalit's Hamas captors collapsed late last year when Israel offered via a German mediator to release around a thousand prisoners. But Hamas never formally responded. Since then, both sides have blamed the other for the stalled talks.
Last week, Israel marked the fourth anniversary of Shalit's capture.
Frustrated by the lack of progress in negotiations and angered by the government's move to ease the siege on Gaza, Shalit's family began a major public campaign to pressure the government into inking a deal.
"I won't be happy if terrorists and dangerous murderers... are released," the soldier's father Noam Shalit told the Haaretz daily last week.
"But after four years the time has come to make up one's mind, especially since the government is not proposing any other alternative and there are no negotiations right now and no response from Hamas to the German proposal," he said.
"So would the prime minister kindly make a decision and pay what is being demanded?"