'No more steps until Shalit returned'

Egyptian Intelligence chief Suleiman to meet Olmert and Peretz on Wed.

Gilad Shalit 298 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Gilad Shalit 298 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There is unlikely to be any additional progress in the suddenly rejuvenated diplomatic process until Cpl. Gilad Shalit is released, a senior diplomatic source said Tuesday, on the eve of a visit by Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. Suleiman met last week in Cairo with Damascus-based Hamas head Khaled Mashaal, who Israel believes holds the key to Shalit's fate. The official hinted that expanding the cease-fire from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank would also be dependent on the release of Shalit, who has been held since June 25. "Until the Shalit issue is solved, it will now be difficult to move forward with any confidence-building steps with the Palestinians beyond the decision Sunday to move the IDF out of Gaza," the official said. According to the official, the Palestinian failure to release Shalit is holding up a large release of Palestinian security prisoners and other steps that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert mentioned in his Sde Boker address Monday, such as removing road blocks, allowing more freedom of movement and opening border crossings. Olmert said in his speech that he would even release prisoners "serving long-term sentences." In addition, the official said, Israel would not give its final go-ahead to the deployment in Gaza of the Jordan-based PLO Badr Brigade until Shalit was released. The official confirmed, however, that Israel had agreed in principle to the force's deployment. The Palestinians asked a number of months ago for permission to move 1,200 Badr troops to Gaza, and the US - according to the official - made it clear to Olmert when he was in Washington two weeks ago that they supported the idea. This is one of the issues that would likely be raised during talks US Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams will hold during his current visit to Israel. Abrams, who comes to the region every few months, arrived Tuesday for a two-day visit and met with Olmert before dining with Olmert's chief-of-staff, Yoram Turbowicz, and his foreign policy adviser, Shalom Turgeman. Turbowicz and Turgeman have been in constant contact with officials in Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's office in recent days. Suleiman, meanwhile, is scheduled to meet Wednesday with Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Mossad head Meir Dagan. In addition to discussing Shalit, the meetings with Suleiman, according to Israeli officials, will focus on arms smuggling from Egypt into Gaza, with Israel expected to once again urge the Egyptians to do more to shut down the vast smuggling operations. According to Israeli officials, while the Egyptians are effective when given precise intelligence on smuggling operations, they are doing little to try and snuff out the smuggling infrastructure that began deep inside Sinai. In a related development, while US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to meet Abbas on Thursday in Jericho, there are no plans, according to Israeli and US officials, for her to meet Olmert. "They just met two weeks ago in Washington," one official said. Rice and US President George W. Bush will be in Amman on Wednesday and Thursday for meetings with Iraqi and Jordanian leaders to discuss the situation in Iraq. US officials said the Rice-Abbas meeting was set for Jericho because it was easier logistically to have Rice helicopter into Jericho than into Ramallah. The officials said that while the meeting was not originally on Rice's agenda, she added it to her schedule following the developments of the last few days to "give encouragement and show support for the cease-fire." Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in a speech at the EU-Med meeting of European and Arab foreign ministers in Finland, rejected the growing chorus of voices claiming that solving the Israel-Palestinian issue was the key to regional peace, saying, "The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the mother of all conflicts, it is the child of hatred." She called on moderate countries in the region to make their voices heard and their actions clear, "so that the noise, destruction and despair created by this hatred can finally fade away and the space for true peace be created." Livni urged the EU not to water down the three criteria - recognizing Israel, forswearing terrorism and accepting previous Israel-Palestinian agreements - that it set for the PA government to acquire legitimacy. "The road map and the three principles of the international community are crucial ingredients in ensuring the emergence of a responsible and functioning Palestinian homeland that ends the conflict, not a terror state that perpetuates it," she said. Acceptance of the conditions "is the only way to strengthen the hand of the moderates and create conditions in which a process can be advanced with a Palestinian partner that believes in resolving political disputes rather than transforming them into an endless religious confrontation," she said. The events of the last few days - the Gaza cease-fire declaration and what she termed Olmert's "important and historic address" - were causes for "cautious optimism." At the same time, she said, there were forces in the region "who oppose Israeli-Palestinian peace as a matter of principle. For them, extremism is not a tactic, it is an ideology. Iran and its proxies will continue to pursue a radical ideological agenda that promises only instability and insecurity throughout the region."