Calling Damascus-based Hamas head Khaled Mashaal a "terrorist with blood on his hands," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reiterated emphatically Monday that he would not release Palestinian prisoners to Hamas in exchange for Cpl. Gilad Shalit.
Just after Olmert made his comments at a Jerusalem press conference for foreign journalists, Mashaal held one in Damascus and declaring that Shalit would be held in captivity until Israel released Palestinian prisoners in a swap.
"He is not a legitimate partner for anything," Olmert said of Mashaal. "He is the head of an organization that openly, publicly and officially calls for the liquidation of the State of Israel. Therefore he is not a partner, will not be a partner, and I will not negotiate with Hamas. I repeat. I want it to be very clear. I don't negotiate with Hamas, I did not negotiate with Hamas, and I will not negotiate with Hamas."
Olmert said that surrendering to Hamas's demand would mean that "you don't need more moderate guys like [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] Abu Mazen who are opposed to terror, because at the end of the day the upper hand will always be that of the terrorists and killers and those who support violence."
Olmert said that he would negotiate with Abbas in the future if the PA president could exert his authority.
The current Palestinian government, Olmert said, was "a terrorist government."
"This is the first time in modern history that there is whole government that is a terrorist government," he said. "This is not a government that is influenced by terror, not a government that sympathizes with terror. This government is terror. And many of the prominent leaders in this government are deeply involved in terror, which is why they were arrested."
With that, Olmert said Israel had "no particular desire to topple the Hamas government as a policy." Rather, he said, "We have a particular desire to stop terrorists inflicting terror on the Israeli people. Whoever is involved with terror will have to pay for it."
Olmert said that Israel had not set a timetable for the current operation in Gaza and that it would continue "in places, in time, in measures that will suit our purposes."
He said that once the Kassam rocket firing stopped and terrorist actions against Israelis were halted, "there will be no need for any Israeli action in Gaza."
Regarding criticism from the European Union of a "disproportionate" Israeli response in Gaza, Olmert asked: "What exactly is the criterion by which one measures the proportion of more than 1,000 missiles fired at innocent civilians against the measures taken by Israel?"
"Can one measure the anxiety, the fear, the shocks, the lack of security of tens of thousands of people living day in and day out for almost a year under the constant threat of missiles shot at them?" he asked.
He also asked when was the last time the EU condemned the rocket attacks on Israel or even suggested effective measures to stop them.
Olmert was asked a number of times why Israel had targeted the power plant in Gaza, and said it was done in order to keep Shalit's captors from moving him through the Strip's exit crossings, implying that the transformers hit provided electricity for those crossings. Seventy percent of Gazans still had electricity, Olmert said.
He said that Israel decided to black out areas where it thought Shalit might be held captive. Foreign government officials have confirmed that Israel's attack on the power plant in Gaza was done in a "surgical" manner, targeting specific transformers.
Turning to Iran, Olmert termed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "one of the most extreme anti-Semites of all time," who recently said that Islam would only be happy and fulfilled "when the Zionist entity is completely destroyed and disappears."