Olmert, Katsav celebrate July 4th

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, speaking at the American Independence Day celebration at the residence of US Ambassador Richard Jones, issued a stern warning that Hamas would feel "the unprecedented Israeli response" for the Kassam rocket attack on a school in the heart of Ashkelon. Olmert reiterated that Israel would not yield to any form of terrorist coercion and confirmed that Israel intends to bring home Cpl. Gilad Shalit "safe and well." Olmert said that exactly a year ago, former prime minister Ariel Sharon had stood on the podium where he was standing, and six months to the day since he had lost consciousness. Olmert wished him a full recovery. Speaking to the ambassador, Olmert said Jones should tell US President George W. Bush that he is "very very popular in this country" and Israel thanks him from the bottom of its heart for his friendship. "Israel has many friends in the world, but not better friend than the US," he said. "Jews have the longest memories in history," Olmert continued. "We never forget those who brought evil to our people, but we will never forget the friendship, care and involvement in the life of our people by the US, for which we will be forever grateful." President Moshe Katsav did not limit himself to felicitations, but spoke also of global terror and the struggle to enable humanity to enjoy the elementary right to live free from terror. The combination of totalitarianism with global terror and weapons of mass destruction will bring about a great human calamity, warned Katsav. In congratulating the American people on the 230th anniversary of their independence, Katsav expressed the appreciation of the people of Israel to a series of presidents of the United States for their consistent and continuing support of Israel in good times and bad during its 58 years of statehood. He was particularly appreciative of the involvement of Bush and his commitment to resolve the region's conflicts. Katsav recalled that when he participated in last year's American Independence Day celebrations, he had been optimistic about the lessening of political differences between Israel and the Palestinians, but since the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January, he said, the rift has grown ever wider.