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"This is a wrong, harmful message that will not strengthen the Palestinian Authority. It will only weaken it," Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu said Tuesday in response to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's decision to release Palestinian prisoners.
"[Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, also known as] Abu Mazen will be hurt by such a decision," continued Netanyahu. "Giving them guns and releasing their prisoners is a big mistake."
Olmert announced that Israel would free 250 Fatah-affiliated prisoners at Monday's Sharm e-Sheikh summit with Jordan's King Abdullah, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Abbas and, according to the London-based Al Hayat newspaper, the PA chairman had demanded that Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti be included among the released prisoners.
Netanyahu told a Jewish Agency assembly that as a former prime minister, he was not going to interfere with the government's decisions regarding negotiations over the release of captured IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit. "I am aware of the sensitivity of the subject," Netanyahu said.
"For us, releasing prisoners would be crossing a red line. We must remember there are prices we can pay and prices we cannot afford to pay," he said adding, however, that he "respected" the situation and did not intend to get involved.
Netanyahu went on to say that Likud would not join the coalition since the government was "acting in a damaging way and has proved its lack of expertise."
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Tuesday that she supported Prime Minister Olmert's bid.
"The distinction between extremists and moderates is clear-cut and will be expressed not only towards Abbas as chairman but also in working ties with the new PA government," Livni said following a meeting with the foreign minister of Australia.
The foreign minister remarked that Hamas clearly wanted to cruelly capitalize on the pain of the Schalit family and the entire nation to dictate its agenda and sabotage the four-way summit in Sharm e-Sheikh.
Earlier Tuesday, ministers from Israel Beiteinu would oppose the release of Palestinian prisoners, Tourism Minister Yitzhak Ahronovich Told Israel Radio.
Ahronovich claimed that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's proposal was made contrary to Israel Beiteinu's stance on the matter, and added that his party opposed unilateral moves by Israel.
The tourism minister added that Israel Beiteinu would not leave the government, but would try to influence its decisions from within.
Earlier Tuesday, other right-wing parties also responded harshly to Olmert's decision.
Likud faction chairman Gidon Sa'ar said that the announcement "will weaken Israel and bring about a renewal of terror attacks."
NU/NRP Chairman Benny Elon also lambasted the decision saying: "Peace is made with nations, not with gangsters of Hamas or Fatah."
Elon added that while the prime minister and defense establishment must be relied upon to do all that is required to bring back the captured soldiers, they must not be pressured into adopting a stance of surrender to terror.
Nissan Slomiansky (NU/NRP) criticized the prime minister's management. "Olmert has turned Abu Mazen into someone more saintly than the pope, while, at the same time, Fatah is responsible for dispatching suicide bombers to Israel," he said.
Meanwhile, Deputy Defense Minister Efraim Sneh expressed his support for Olmert's decision. Sneh told Israel Radio that the prime minister's judgment was "wise" and estimated that the move would indirectly accelerate the release of captured IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit.
"We must return Schalit home at a price that is bearable for Israeli society," added Sneh.
A senior government official went even further in his support for the prisoner release, saying that Israel should even consider stopping the arrests of fugitive Fatah gunmen on condition that they cease receiving funds from Iran and halt their attacks against Israel.
The official told Israel Radio that this consideration should even be made regarding al-Aksa Martyrs' Brigades operatives, adding that if they are allowed to openly join Abbas's forces instead of operating clandestinely (for fear of being arrested by Israel), they would constitute Fatah's "best chance" against Hamas.