"It's time to show flexibility and generosity on this issue," Olmert said during a cabinet meeting, "this view may differ from the ones expressed in previous cabinet meetings, but this is my opinion."
Olmert reported that the matter has been discussed during his meeting with Abbas Saturday, and hinted that the coming Muslim holiday could serve as an appropriate date for the release: "It is customary to make such a gesture on Eid el-Adha."
The prime minister consulted several of his ministers on the issue. Vice Premier Shimon Peres said that there was no reason to refrain from such a gesture prior to kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit's release, in a bid to strengthen the moderate Palestinian factions and Abbas.
Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz also agreed that a gesture of goodwill was in order.
Sunday noon Defense Minister Peretz also hinted that other gestures to the Palestinians are expected in the future. "The gestures are an interest of Israel, and we are willing to extend some more," he stated.
Father of Gilad Shalit, Noam Shalit, refused to address the reports that Israel is considering releasing Palestinian prisoners.
Shalit said that he has not personally heard this position from the cabinet and that he "would like to verify who really said what, so that it won't just turn out to be a media fabrication."
'Goodwill gestures in Israel's interests'
Peretz hinted Sunday afternoon that more gestures will be extended to the Palestinians. "The gestures are in Israel's interests and we are prepared to make more of them," said Peretz at the end of a meeting with Bishop Elias Shakur, the Archbishop of the Israeli Greek Catholic Church in honor of the upcoming holiday eve.
Peretz with the Bishop (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
The two met in the town of Iblin in northern Israel. Peretz said at the end of the meeting that he and the Bishop had discussed ways to empower Christians in Israel, noting that as part of the goodwill gestures made by Israel following the meeting between Olmert and Abbas security forces will allow Christian Palestinians to leave Gaza and participate in the Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem.
Peretz stated that Saturday's meeting is a base for advancing negotiations with the Palestinians and said that the gestures to the Palestinians are unilateral at this point because they are also in Israel's own interests. In this regard he mentioned Olmert's decision to unfreeze Palestinian financial assets and said that more gestures were to be expected in the future.
Ahiya Raved contributed to the report