Olmert and Livni
Photo: Amit Shabi
Photo: Herzel Yosef
Israeli leaders change plans due to Gaza situation
Defense Minister Peretz cancels trip to Paris scheduled for next week, Foreign Minister Livni announces she will return to Israel on Sunday before completing official visit to Portugal, Luxembourg; PM Olmert expected to leave for US as planned next week

Defense Minister Amir Peretz announced Friday that he had decided to cancel his planned trip to Paris, scheduled for next week, due to the deteriorating security situation in the Palestinian Authority and Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip.


Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni also declared that she would return to Israel on Sunday before completing her official visit to Portugal and Luxembourg.


Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to leave as planned for New York and Washington at the beginning of the week.


The reports on the Israeli leaders' absence sparked a wave of criticism in the political and security arena.


Talking to Ynet on Friday morning, Livni said that after talking to Olmert and in light of the situation in the PA, she planned to return to Israel on Sunday.


Livni was scheduled to deliver an important diplomatic speech on Monday to the 27 foreign ministers of the European Union. She was also scheduled to meet in private with some of the ministers in a bid to advance Israel's interests in light of the crisis in Gaza.


Officials at the defense minister's office said that Peretz decided to cancel his trip and send his deputy, Ephraim Sneh, instead of him, after receiving reports from security and intelligence officials on the situation in the Gaza Strip.


"In light of the developments and the internal Palestinian incidents in the Gaza Strip and the uncertainty, and in light of the prime minister's expected absence from Israel, the defense minister also decided to cancel his work trip to Paris which was scheduled for the coming Sunday.


"The defense minister is closely following the situation, is holding consultations and is guiding the security forces," an official in Peretz's office said.


Olmert is expected to fly to the United States on Saturday evening. On Sunday he is scheduled to meet with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and on Tuesday with US President George W Bush.


The prime minister's trip was scheduled in advance, before the violence in the Strip broke out. Sources at his office stressed that this was a highly important diplomatic meeting and that there were no plans to cancel it.


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