(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and visiting Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit on Wednesday discussed various ways Israel could trade Palestinian security prisoners in return for captive Cpl. Gilad Shalit, but did not discuss releasing any as a good-will gesture ahead of the Id Al-Adha holiday.
Olmert is scheduled to hold security consultations in Tel Aviv on Thursday to discuss a release ahead of Sunday's holiday, something that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas requested at his meeting with Olmert on Saturday night.
According to Israeli government officials, Gheit said that in any prisoner release it was crucial, "in order to bolster Abbas," that they be released to him, and not to Hamas. Details as to how this could be done were discussed, the officials said, but not decided upon.
Egypt has been active in trying to bring about the release of Shalit, and last month held discussions with Damascus-based Hamas head Khaled Mashaal in Cairo on the issue.
Gheit told a Jerusalem press conference after meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni he was sure Shalit was alive.
"This is a very sensitive issue," he said. "I hope and believe that he will be released."
Gheit arrived Wednesday, and in addition to meeting Olmert and Livni met with Defense Minister Amir Peretz.
Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said the bulk of Gheit's talks with Olmert dealt with planning next week's meeting between Olmert and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Sharm e-Sheikh.
Gheit, at the press conference with Livni, touched on the issue of Hamas smuggling money into Gaza, saying that there was no Palestinian law prohibiting individuals - including Hamas officials - from bringing large sums of money into the area. European monitors at the Rafah crossing estimate that $60 million has been smuggled through the crossing by Hamas officials since April.
Gheit said that when foreigners step on Egyptian soil, they were required to report how much money they were carrying, but that once they did so, they could move around the country freely with that money. He said there was no Egyptian law preventing the money from being brought into Gaza.
Both at the press conference and during his meeting with Olmert, Gheit praised Israel's policy of restraint regarding the violations of the Gaza cease-fire and the firing of Kassam rockets.
Olmert met the Egyptian foreign minister immediately after meeting with Peretz and security officials and approving the new policy permitting pinpoint attacks on Kassam rocket cells. He explained this policy to Gheit.
Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said the issues of Iran and Syria were not discussed.
Syria did come up, however, in a meeting Olmert held later in the day with 25 of Israel's ambassadors to Europe.
With questions being raised in Europe as to why Israel was rejecting Syria's overtures for negotiations, Olmert told the envoys Israel was certainly interested in peace negotiations, but that the Syrian regime's actions in the region - from support for Hizbullah and Hamas to undermining the regime of Fuad Saniora in Lebanon - belied Damascus' recent declarations.
Olmert said that with the world demanding that the Palestinian Authority government renounce and fight terrorism as a condition for negotiations, "There is no reason why Israel should abandon these principles concerning Syria, which is up to its neck in supporting terrorism."
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