Jerusalem, Feb. 16 – Israel’s outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Sunday that his country would not open the border crossings with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip before the kidnapped Israeli soldier is released.
“We will not allow the opening of the crossings to Gaza to the extent that it will bring life back to normal, certainly not before Gilad Shalit is home,” Olmert told visiting American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.
He admitted that Israel would have to free many Hamas terrorists in exchange for Shalit, who was taken away by Gazan militants two and a half years ago, and stressed that he would not bring any ceasefire plan to the government that did not include Shalit’s return.
Israel’s other current priorities are to secure an end both to arms smuggling from the Egyptian border into Gaza and to rocket attacks from the Palestinian enclave, Olmert added at the evening occasion.
During a weekly cabinet meeting held earlier in the day, most ministers insisted that the Shalit issue be solved before Israel agrees to any long-term truce with Hamas and open the Gaza border crossings.
On Saturday night, Olmert’s office rebutted reports that a lull with Hamas is imminent, saying in a statement that “Israel is not conducting any negotiations with Hamas” and that “Prime Minister Olmert’s position is that Israel will not reach understandings on a lull before Gilad Shalit’s release.”
Olmert and the other two members of Israel’s leadership troika, namely Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, are now working on a proposal concerning Shalit’s release and Gaza truce, which might be presented to the cabinet for a vote as early as Wednesday.
In light of the political reality created after the Feb. 10 general election, Olmert would consult Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who is seen in a best position to become the next prime minister, before signing any Gaza ceasefire agreement, reported local daily Ha’aretz.