My position on Gilad Shalit's release has not changed, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert saidMonday, adding that "the way things have been presented in the past few days is wrong. I have not hardened my position. I've been saying the same thing for weeks, but only now has it been made public."
Olmert addressed the subject of the kidnapped IDF soldier and the reports suggesting Israel is demanding his release as a prerequisite to opening the Gaza crossings, during a tour of southern communities adjacent to the Israel-Egypt border.
Olmert said that he it was the "twisted media reports" of the past few days that forced him to publicly disclose his stands.
"My position is and was clear from day one – Shalit is the top priority. Second is the matter of preventing arms smuggling and third comes halting the (rocket) fire emanating form the Gaza Strip. Unfortunately, we've seen six rockets land here in the past few days.
"I've made these priorities clear to the Egyptian emissaries I met with. I made it perfectly clear that we will not open the crossings while Gilad is in Hamas' cruel captivity. These have been my priorities all along, but unlike other people" he said, hinting at Defense Minister Ehud Barak's past statements on the matter, "I have refrained from talking about it."
Touring the border (Photo: GPO)
The decision to make his opinion public, he continued "stemmed for seeing dramatic headlines in the papers everyday, telling of monumental decisions and declarations, so I wanted to set the record straight. Gilad Shalit comes first. All the rest follows."
Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, he stressed, were made privy to this position, as were Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu and Yisrael Beiteinu Head Avigdor Lieberman.
As for the political limbo which followed last Tuesday's general elections, Olmert told reporters that he thinks Kadima should be a part of a broad government.
The prime minister said he would prefer to see Kadima, "which I was instrumental in forming," lead the government, but nevertheless, he "trusts President Shimon Peres, who is seasoned in these matters, to handle the situation."
Colonel Shlomi Dahan, head of the IDF's Southern Division, accompanied Olmert on his tour of the southern sector. The premier was briefed the division's operation and then taken up in an IDF Sea Stallion helicopter and given an aerial tour of Israel's border with Egypt and the Philadelphi Route.
Joining Olmert on his tour of the south was Housing and Construction Minister Ze'ev Boim.