Photo: AP
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
Photo: AP
Photo: AP
Hassan Nasrallah. No longer hungry?
Photo: AP
Olmert gives 'word of honor' to release prisoners
In interview for east Jerusalem al-Quds newspaper, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says: 'Palestinians: Say no to the extremists. They are your enemies, and they have ruined every opportunity for a real arrangement.' Olmert also says Hizbullah leader Nasrallah has 'lost the appetite' to fight Israel after war in Lebanon
Is the prime minister preparing Palestinian public opinion for the release of prisoners? Olmert expressed willingness to release Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.


In a fairly pragmatic interview published in the east Jerusalem based al-Quds newspaper, Olmert said he is convinced peace would be obtained in the area only through two states, in other words, through the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel.


The prime minister apologized for the accidental shelling at Beit Hanoun, and even expressed willingness to meet with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in order to reach a solution, despite Abbas being a difficult negotiations partner, according to Olmert.


The prime minister also expressed willingness to meet with Hamas ministers, if Hamas accepts the conditions of the Quartet.


Regarding the issue of prisoners, Olmert said: "I can say one thing and that is, before June 25, when Gilad Shalit was kidnapped, I met
with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and with Abdullah King of Jordan, and my direct message to Abbas, through United States President George Bush, French President Jacques Chirac, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was that when I meet with Abbas, I will release Palestinian prisoners in large quantities. Afterwards came the incident of the kidnapping of Shalit, before the needed technical issues for preparing the meeting with Abbas took place, and naturally this incident changed everything."


"Can I release prisoners before Shalit is released? I give you my word of honor, which I am also giving the Palestinian people, and you are currently writing my words, you will be surprised by the distance I am prepared to go to allow your sons to return home. Say, 'enough of Hamas!' and enough of extremists and those who leave your sons in jails because they are not willing to release an Israeli soldier who has been kidnapped, despite the fact that we did not conquer a single part of land of the Gaza Strip," Olmert said.


Olmert added: "I tell the Palestinians – say no to extremists. They are your enemies, and they ruined every opportunity for a real arrangement between us. I am telling you again – I'm willing to release prisoners and I was about to release many such prisoners who entered jail. In the last four months they could have been in their homes spending the Ramadan month and Id al-Fitr, and maybe they would be at home for Id al-Adha and Christmas. But you must pay attention, don't think that I am releasing all of these prisoners if Hamas continue to hold Shalit hostage. Let's sit and talk like human beings, that is all that I want."


Not happy with Egypt's performance on Philadelphi route

The prime minister also criticized Egypt for its handling of security issues along the Philadelphi route and for failing to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza.


Referring to the war in Lebanon, Olmert said that Hizbullah's leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah ‘lost the appetite’ to fight Israel for many years.


“I don’t mean to mock him or insult him, but believe me, he ‘lost his appetite’ to fight Israel for many years,” Olmert said.


When asked if he would be willing to accept international monitors in the Palestinian territories, and especially in Gaza, Olmert said: "I don’t wish to go into the details of the negotiations, but I will say one thing: We pulled out of Gaza, and Gaza is no longer in my hands."


"I agreed to withdraw from Gaza and the Philadelphi route and I agreed that the Egyptians take control over the route, and I have also agreed for supervision by European monitors at the Rafah border crossing," he added.


Responding to a question about the Egyptian activity on the border with the Strip, he said: "I highly respect President Mubarak, and I believe that the Egyptians can do a better job on the Philadelphi route, but they could have done a lot worse. Either way I'm not happy. However, I want them to be there, and I want them to improve their performance. I think that weapon smuggling is a disaster, and is equivalent to partaking in the ongoing terror."


Referring to possible future withdrawals in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, Olmert stated: "East Jerusalem is not the only difficulty we need to resolve. There are many difficulties and it's time to talk about them. We will find the right way to resolve this problem. You are familiar with my deep commitment to Jerusalem and my love for this city, but I do not disregard the feelings and needs of the Muslim residents of the town."


"The Temple Mount will remain open to all worshippers forever, because this is my belief. I believe in mutual understanding, cooperation and respecting all religious faiths as a part of our lives, and I therefore say that no one will expel you from where you live and no one will evict the Palestinians from where they live," he added.


"No one will ignore the legitimate religious tradition and the legitimate concerns. We will reach the proper diplomatic outline, but allow me to start with a simple issue. The ordinary Israeli citizen says: You want to talk about Jerusalem, but look what happened in Gaza – we withdrew from there and look at the result, is this how you talk about Jerusalem? and I say that if Gaza is calm and if the message emanating from there is different, this will have a tremendous affect on the Israeli public opinion," he concluded.


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