The newest development in the case of abducted soldier Gilad Schalit is "a small but important step," President Shimon Peres said on Wednesday, after receiving the news that a video on Schalit's state of health would be made available in exchange for 20 Palestinian prisoners.
The president's comment came immediately after he received the credentials of French Ambassador Christophe Bigot, the last of five new ambassadors who presented their credentials to him throughout the morning.
It was a small advancement in the negotiations for Schalit's release, said Peres, adding that he was very proud of the way the Schalit family has maintained its strength in the face of such prolonged and indescribable suffering.
He also expressed appreciation to the Egyptian and German mediators for all their efforts in attempting to secure Schalit's release from Hamas captivity.
Early in the morning, Peres who is in frequent contact with the Schalit family, held a working meeting with Hagai Hadas, Israel's special liaison on matters related to Schalit.
Peres later conveyed a personal message via Bigot to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, expressing appreciation for the manner in which France has stood by the Schalit family.
Peres also thanked Sarkozy for the "courageous and clear position" that he has taken with regard to the Iranian nuclear threat.
If Iran continues in the manner that it has to date, said Peres, "the world will pay an enormous price in security and loss of life."
Peres was scathing in his remarks about the Goldstone Report, reiterating previously expressed outrage and noting that Israel cannot be considered an occupier of Gaza because Israel left Gaza and handed it over to the Palestinians.
Hamas could have easily put a stop to terrorist activities instead of perpetrating them, Peres contended, noting that both Hamas and Hizbullah were supported by Iran.
As for the Human Rights Council, Peres suggested that before criticizing Israel, its members examine their own countries for human rights violations.
Noting that Gilad Schalit is both a French and an Israeli citizen, Bigot - who visited the Schalit family very soon after his arrival here - said that he had come to Beit Hanassi with special greetings from Sarkozy and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who have a clear position regarding Iran's development of nuclear arms.
The time frame for negotiations with Iran must be limited, and then, if there is no change in Iran's attitude, severe sanctions against Teheran must be imposed, Bigot said.
"We are determined to move quickly," he said, adding that France is also determined to continue to assist Israel in its attempts to renew negotiations with the Palestinians and equally determined to bring about Schalit's freedom.
"We will do our utmost towards his release," said Bigot. "We are in close contact with the Egyptian and German mediators and with relevant people in Israel. President Sarkozy spoke about this to Prime Minister Netanyahu in New York and he has also spoken about it to President Peres."
"President Sarkozy and the French administration are playing an important role in the Middle East by finding a way in which we can all march together," said Peres, who noted the historic relationship between France and the Jewish people and France and Israel.
France was ahead of other nations in giving rights to its Jews, he said, and it had been supportive of Israel.