Ashkenazi downplays threat of new intifada if Annapolis fails

Tells Knesset's FADC Palestinians "more busy dealing with daily threats and internal strife."

Israel should not release Palestinian prisoners to the Gaza Strip while the Hamas government remains in control and Gilad Schalit remains in captivity, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tuesday. "I am not opposed to releasing prisoners," he said. Ashkenazi expressed his objection to the release of 16 prisoners slated to return the Gaza Strip out of the 441 prisoners approved. "We are active in the Gaza Strip and trying to minimize the rocket fire from there... We are not doing enough to stop it, however, and the situation will not be able to continue," he said. Also Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said recent events in Gaza and Monday's attack in the West Bank indicated that Hamas and Islamic Jihad intend to escalate their efforts to carry out terrorist attacks before Annapolis. Barak said the IDF was maintaining a high level of alert along the Gaza Strip, the Lebanese border and the West Bank. While it was possible that a popular uprising, or intifada, could erupt following the upcoming Annapolis peace summit, Ashkenazi said, such a scenario was unlikely, considering the current "feeling on the Palestinian street." "The Palestinians are dealing with daily threats and internal strife," he said. "They are undergoing a sobering process. The street is very sober, and there is an atmosphere of needing to deal with day-to-day troubles."