"We won't agree to the release of additional prisoners from Hamas' list beyond the hundreds we have agreed to release," he said, stressing that "we will not relay a new offer to Hamas."
The prime minister stressed that the cabinet ministers had chosen not to hold a detailed discussion on the matter due to its sensitivity.
He added, however, that "all ministers accepted the conclusions of the delegates (to the negotiations), that Hamas' current conditions prevent the possibility of completing the talks and returning Gilad Shalit home."
Olmert stressed that he would not give in to Hamas. "The Israeli government, as long as it is headed by me, will not agree to Hamas' dictations as presented to the negotiating team.
"The Israeli offers presented to the other side were generous and far-reaching and were meant to lead to Gilad's release. I approved these offers, whose practical meaning was to release hundreds of terrorists, including murderers of Israelis, in return for Shalit's possible release. These offers were rejected."
'Our red lines won't be crossed'
The prime minister said that he would not relay additional offers to Hamas' representatives and put the ball in their court. "We won’t agree to the release of additional prisoners from the Hamas list beyond the hundreds we agreed to release and informed them of," he said.
Shalit family watches PM's address (Photo: Orly Zeiler)
Olmert stated that he had made every effort to release the kidnapped soldier. "We have acted over the years tirelessly, in hidden, bold, unprecedented ways in order to return our children home. That's what we did to bring Gilad back, so far unsuccessfully."
He said that he plans to continue his efforts to release Shalit. "We'll talk to whomever we can. We won't cease our efforts. Throughout these years we held meetings on numerous channels – in different places in the world, in the region and in distant places – in order to create a route which would cause the efforts for Gilad's release to mature.
"We were assisted by different mediators, leaders and heads of states, as well as unofficial representatives. We didn’t spare any effort," he said.
The prime minister went on to point a finger to the Gaza Strip. "Unfortunately, we encountered a cruel, murderous and merciless body, lacking any basic human emotions, which was unwilling to accept the challenge.
"I would like to say here on behalf of the State of Israel and its government: We have red lines. We won't cross them. We are not a defeated nation, we are not a beaten country. A people which wishes to live and is surrounded by hostile countries, threatened by murderous terror organizations, cannot, is unwilling and will not give in to their dictations."
Olmert said he embraced the Shalit family and would continue the efforts to release Gilad. "We will continue the efforts to bring about Gilad Shalit's release these days as well."
He said that the Shalit family "knows that I am committed wholeheartedly to work with the entire government in order to bring Gilad back home. That's what I have done and that's what I will do," Olmert concluded.
Prisoners' conditions to be worsened?
In a special cabinet meeting convened Tuesday afternoon, the government appointed a special ministerial committee headed by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann to examine ways to pressure Hamas, including forming regulations which would compare the conditions of Hamas prisoners jailed in Israel to those of Gilad Shalit.
The kidnapped soldier's family met with the prime minister at the end of the meeting. Gilad's father, Noam, sounded slightly optimistic, saying shortly afterwards, "Olmert has not given up."
All the defense officials who spoke during the cabinet meeting said that accepting Hamas' conditions would heavily damage the State of Israel, excluding IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, Olmert's special emissary Ofer Dekel, Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin and other professionals stressed that holding the negotiations at the same time as the comprehensive public and media campaign damaged the Israeli side.
According to the defense officials, Hamas went back on agreements reached in the past and was convinced that due to the public pressure Israel would agree to release all 450 prisoners, although Israel only agreed to free 320 of them.