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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Tuesday that Monday's deal with Hizbullah was a step toward returning kidnapped IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, but that the soldiers' release was still far off.
"Yesterday, we passed a certain stage of the process, but unfortunately, as I said, the process of returning Udi and Eldad in the North and Gilad [Schalit] in the South is lengthy," Olmert said at a conference in Ashdod on aliya and absorption.
However, he declared, the prisoner swap conducted with Hizbullah on Monday night, in which Israel handed over the bodies of two Hizbullah fighters and another Hizbullah-affiliated prisoner in exchange for the body of an Ethiopian immigrant who went missing in 2005, was "reasonable and logical."
Olmert added that no day went by without the subject of the kidnapped IDF soldiers on the agenda.
"Our enemies have tried for years to raise the price Israel pays for every snippet of information, and the prices we pay for kidnapped soldiers and sometimes bodies. [They] exploit our emotions, and sometimes succeed in this," he said.
Meanwhile, former Shin Bet head Ya'acov Perry, who is involved with the issue of the missing soldiers, told Army Radio on Tuesday morning that Monday's exchange was unrelated to attempts to return the kidnapped soldiers.
Israel Radio reported that Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah planned to address the latest exchange with Israel in a televised speech on Tuesday evening, according to the group's official television station, Al Manar.
Earlier Tuesday morning, the Prime Minister's Office directed thinly veiled criticism at the families of the missing soldiers, saying that prisoner exchanges like the one conducted on Monday were made more difficult when details were discussed in the media.
"A deal like the one conducted yesterday proves that it is much easier to come to an arrangement when negotiations remain secret," the statement said. "It would be good if the families would keep quiet and conduct fewer interviews with the press."
In response, Karnit Goldwasser, wife of kidnapped reservist Ehud Goldwasser, told Army Radio that all steps taken by the troops' families were coordinated with the Prime Minister's Office.
Meanwhile, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz told Israel Radio that the deal between Israel and Hizbullah was a positive step with the potential for further confidence-building measures - which, he said, could result in the return of Goldwasser and fellow reservist Regev.
Goldwasser's mother, Miki, told The Jerusalem Post that Monday's swap offered a small ray of hope that something would now shift with respect to the two captive reservists.
"It's a start," she said.
"I understood that [the deal] builds more trust. It shows the families [of Lebanese prisoners] that it is possible to negotiate with Israel," she said.
She added that the deal was also proof for the Lebanese families "that Israel keeps its promises and is doing whatever is needed to make the negotiations possible."
Miki Goldwasser called on the families of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel to do their utmost to pressure Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah to reach a swap deal with Israel that would secure their children's release in exchange for her son and Regev.
"I am calling on the families in Lebanon to push more to end this misery. We are doing everything we can here in Israel," she said.
Government officials had contacted her about Monday's deal a day earlier, Goldwasser said.
Herb Keinon and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.