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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A statement released by the Prime Minister's Office refuted remarks made Friday by Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter remarks that Israel would not rule out the possibility of releasing Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the release of captured soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit and for the cessation of Kassam rocket attacks against Israeli targets.
[For a Jerusalem Online video of events click here]
"The prime minister's position is unchanged," the statement read. "Dichter was not speaking for us, and his remarks do not reflect the government's position," it continued.
Dichter, the former chief of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), said, "If Israel needs to release prisoners in exchange for releasing the soldier Gilad Shalit, Israel will do it. Israel has released prisoners in the past, both in exchange for the release of hostages, as well as in return for creating periods of calm."
The minister insisted that the only possible outcome of the hostage crisis was that "Gilad Shalit will return home. Period. There is no other possibility."
He added that the release of detainees in exchange for Shalit and the cessation of rocket attacks was "an achievable goal." Dichter stated that Hamas and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would have to find a way out by meeting the Israeli demands.
One of the minister's associates later clarified that Dichter was not suggesting a prisoner exchange deal, but rather the unconditional release of Shalit. He stated that Dichter meant that if calm was restored and the rocket launches ceased, it would create an atmosphere that would enable Israel to provide goodwill gestures, such as prisoner releases.
Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri responded to Dichter's statements, saying that "our people don't have any faith in Israeli goodwill gestures." He added that at this point there was no point in talking about the kidnapped [Israeli soldier], but only about 30 Palestinian fatalities and 100 wounded in the Israeli assault.
Senior sources in the Prime Minister's Office maintained that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's position on the kidnapping crisis remained as it was, that is, that Shalit must be released unconditionally, Israel Radio reported.
Chairman of the Terror Victims' Organization, Almagor Meir Indor responded to Dichter's statement, saying the internal security minister was playing into the hands of Hamas and encouraging terrorist organizations to kidnap soldiers and civilians.