US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice met Wednesday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, during her visit in the Middle East. Olmert told Rice that despite his desire to help Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel would not agree to release Palestinian prisoners prior to the return of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.
According to Olmert, release of prisoners without first returning the soldier would bring about heightened demands from Hamas in exchange his release.
Olmert told Rice that he is willing to help Abbas implement the Road Map and create a better environment. He also stated that the Karni crossing will be reopened soon and said that Defense Minister Amir Peretz would elaborate on the topic during his anticipated meeting with the secretary of state on Thursday.
Rice meets with Olmert (Photo: Amos Gershum, GPO)
During the meeting, the prime minister and Rice discussed the need to transfer funds to the Palestinian Authority in order to alleviate the situation of residents of the territories.
Olmert said Israel will look into possible ways to provide humanitarian aid, such as transferring funds to hospitals and purchasing of medicines. He added that a number of such ideas had come up during his meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The purpose of Rice's visit in the region is to renew the peace process and try and strengthen Abbas' standing within the PA. Earlier Wednesday, she met with Abbas and said that the US is committed to the two-state solution.
The secretary of state added that she is very worried about the Palestinians' distress, stating that her nation is determined to improve the conditions of living in Gaza and the West Bank and that she would increase her efforts in this capacity.
Abbas said during the meeting that any Palestinian government must honor former agreements between Israel and the PLO. The Palestinian president further stated that, as of now, efforts toward a unity government between Fatah and Hamas had failed and that there was "no indication" that they would be renewed.
Prior to the meeting with Abbas, Rice met with senior Tanzim leaders regarding the current situation within the Fatah party, in light of the possibility of earlier elections or a deterioration of the clashes in the territories.
Palestinian sources told Ynet that Rice emphasized the US is opposed to a unity government led by Hamas as the movement doesn't recognize Israel.