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Shalit may be released within days, Abbas says
Prime minister welcomes Palestinian president at his J'lem residence to discuss diplomatic developments following Mecca unity deal. Abbas tells Olmert kidnapped soldier could be released before unity gov't is established this week

The Palestinians are exerting every effort to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit as soon as possible, and the release may take place before the Palestinian unity government is established this week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday evening.

 

Olmert demanded that the kidnapped soldier would be released immediately and without any conditions. He also demanded that the Palestinians stop firing Qassam rockets at Israel and smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip.

 

The two leaders met at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem and discussed the diplomatic developments following the Mecca unity agreement. Most of the meeting, which lasted about two hours, was held tete-a-tete.

 

Shalit's father Noam told Ynet that he had not received any official information on the remarks made by Abbas regarding his son's release during his meeting with Olmert.

 

"I hope we will later hear clear statements from the official sources," he said, adding that his family members had no indication that Gilad's release was near and that they were still facing uncertainty.

 

Aides to Olmert said at the end of the meeting that "the atmosphere was constructive and excellent. The two parties allegedly agree that the Saudi initiative could serve as a basis for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians."


Abbas and Olmert (Photo: Avi Ochayon, GPO)

 

The two leaders agreed to continue holding summits on a regular basis. The meetings will deal with defense issues, the war on terror and the Palestinians' humanitarian needs. The parties reiterated their commitment to the idea of two states living side by side in peace.

 

Officials at the Prime Minister's Office said that Abbas reiterated his commitment to the three Quartet conditions, which include recognizing Israel, renouncing terror and recognizing past agreements signed between Israel and the PLO.

 

Aides to Abbas said that they understood from Olmert that even if a unity government was established with Hamas, the talks between Olmert and Abbas would continue. Abbas stressed during the meeting that any government founded in the Palestinian Authority would be committed to past agreements.

  

Where did the money go?

During the meeting, the Israelis raised the demand to find out whether the $100 million transferred to Abbas were indeed used to strengthen the defense organizations subject to Abbas and for humanitarian needs.

 

Israeli intelligence source have claimed that part of the money was used to pay government workers' salaries. The two leaders agreed that the issue would be clarified in the coming week.

 

The Palestinian president demanded that Israel release the frozen Palestinian tax funds. He also called for a ceasefire in the West Bank and demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners. 

 

Olmert did not agree to the demands at this stage, but told Abbas that he had decided to keep the Karni crossing open till 11 p.m., thus enabling trucks arriving at the crossing to return on the same day with Palestinian goods.

 

The two agreed to meet again on a regular basis. One of the next meetings could be held in a Palestinian city in order to maintain the principle of reciprocity.

 

Ahiya Raved and Ali Waked contributed to the report

 


First published: 11.03.07, 17:20
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