Olmert pledges Israel will free more prisoners

PM: Peace has never been so close; Sarkozy: Schalit key to talks, brings "message of peace" from Assad.

sarkozy olmert abbas 224 (photo credit: GPO)
sarkozy olmert abbas 224
(photo credit: GPO)
Israel will release more Palestinian prisoners as a goodwill gesture to the Palestinian Authority, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised PA President Mahmoud Abbas during a meeting in Paris on Sunday. The identity and number of prisoners to be freed were not discussed, nor was a timetable for the release. Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev said that the prime minister "agreed in principle" to a release, as a "gesture" to Abbas. Israel Radio reported that Abbas said Israel's release of Palestinian bodies in the prisoner swap deal with Hizbullah undermined him. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the prisoners Abbas was demanding were mainly those sentenced before the Oslo Accords. He said Abbas also asked Olmert to reopen the Nablus institutions shut down by the IDF in the recent crackdown against Hamas, including a shopping mall Israel believed was funding Hamas activities. Erekat told Voice of Palestine Radio that the two leaders would meet again on Sunday night. Earlier Sunday, at the outset of his meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Abbas, Olmert said that Israel and the Palestinians had "never been as close" to a peace deal than today. Olmert said the time would soon arrive when both the Palestinians and Israelis would have to make critical decisions. Olmert praised the meeting which he said was characterized by an atmosphere of "dialogue." He stressed that Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations remained at the top of Israel's agenda, while he hoped to start direct talks with Syria "soon." Sarkozy, during a trilateral statement, said he wanted to see greater French and European Union involvement in the Middle East peace process. Olmert said he was very moved by the French initiative and that he welcomed the partnership of Sarkozy in the diplomatic process. Abbas said he hoped an Israeli-Palestinian agreement could be wrapped up in the coming months. Sarkozy, who looked extremely pleased to be flanked by Olmert and Abbas at the center of the world stage, said it was "a historic day" for all of the Arab leaders and the Israeli leadership to be sitting around the same table at the Mediterranean conference in the French capital.