(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Friday he was ready to discuss Italy's proposal to send international troops to Gaza when he travels to Rome on Wednesday for a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi.
Italy has floated the idea several times since this summer, and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has long called for an international presence in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel, however, has opposed the idea.
Olmert said in an interview with Italy's RAI Tg1 television news that he is on friendly terms with Prodi and would listen to what he has to say.
"If Italy is prepared that its army will be engaged on a daily basis against terrorist actions of Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and the other terrorist organizations operating in Gaza, this is very interesting news. I want to study it," Olmert said.
"Are you ready to fight? Are you ready to sacrifice your soldiers? Are you ready to endanger your people the way we expose our people because we have no choice? If this is your policy, then we will discuss it."
The prime minister's spokesmen, Asi Shariv and Miri Eisin, downplayed the report, saying that Olmert did not reject the idea out of hand, but it was unlikely that it would be implemented.
"He said he is not against the idea, but he didn't say he was for it," Eisin said. "He just said he was willing to listen to [Prodi]. We are waiting to see how UN Resolution 1701 will be implemented in Lebanon. Gaza is different from Lebanon."
Italy is one of the largest contributors to the expanded UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon that was deployed to monitor a cease-fire between Israel and Hizbullah.
Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema has said that an international force for Gaza should have UN authorization, and that Italy would be ready to contribute.
Olmert is scheduled to visit Rome on Wednesday for meetings with Prodi and Pope Benedict XVI.