'Syria foiling efforts to free Shalit'

Livni says Hamas election victory "takes us back not to 1967 but to 1947."

shalit 298 88 (photo credit: AP)
shalit 298 88
(photo credit: AP)
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Tuesday blamed Syria for disrupting efforts to release Cpl. Gilad Shalit, and interfering in attempts to defuse Israel's ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. Speaking at a press conference on the second day of her two-day visit to London, Livni said Syria is playing a very negative role in the region, and added that the reason the soldier kidnapped in June was not home yet was because of messages coming from Syria. "[Hamas leader] Khaled Mashaal is giving the orders and he is hosted by Syria," she said. "We heard the first abducted soldier was being held... in Hamas hands and whenever there was a kind of chance to release him, the order came from Syria saying not to release him." Livni also appealed to the international community to send a strong message to Hamas and Iran, saying that any signs of weakness or hesitation on its part would be dangerous. "The international community needs to continue to send a strong message to the Palestinians that if they want legitimacy, and funding you have to change and have to form a new government that accepts the right of Israel to exist, renounces violence and terrorism and accepts former agreements made between Israel and the Palestinian Authority," he said. Hamas's victory in the Palestinian elections, takes us back not to 1967 but to 1947 since Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist, she said. At the same time, she recognized that Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is trying to change the situation and form a new government. "Only a strong message from the international community will help Abu Mazen establish a new government, which will be more moderate, while any sign of weakness is immediately interpreted by Hamas." She reiterated that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is willing to meet Abbas immediately, before a government has been set up and without any conditions. Turning to Iran, she warned that the Islamic republic was a threat not only to Israel but to the world. She said the international community had to implement UN Resolution 1696, adopted by the UN Security Council in July, that states that if the Iranians don't stop their enrichment program, full sanctions would be implemented. "Any hesitation is being misunderstood by the Iranians. If it is understood that the international community is not strong enough, or devoted enough, to stop Iran obtaining nuclear weapons they will see it as a victory." Livni also addressed the ongoing situation in Sderot, which has been under continual Kassam rocket fire from Gaza that killed a civilian last week and severely wounded another on Tuesday morning. "People can't live there," she said. "They're being attacked on a daily basis, children can't go to school, in the last week people have died from these attacks." Talking about the Beit Hanun tragedy, in which IDF artillery mistakenly killed Palestinian civilians, she said: "It was a mistake and this is something I want to make clear. I can't agree to the comparison that is being made between Palestinians targeting Israeli civilians, and between Israeli soldiers. Those who target Sderot are looking for civilians to kill, so for them the killing of civilians is a success." "For us, when, unfortunately, Palestinian civilians are killed, this is a mistake. The inquiry revealed what happened last week was a mistake but on the other hand we can't sit and allow our citizens to be targeted from a place we left in order to give an opportunity for peace. "We left Gaza in order not to go back. It's not in our interest to reoccupy Gaza." Asked if Israel was willing to cooperate with a UN inquiry into the Beit Hanun incident, she replied: "We have to stop the Kassam rockets, we have to take effective steps to reduce the missiles, it's part of our responsibility to our citizens. There is no need for an inquiry. We know what happened in Beit Hanun. It was a tragic mistake. I don't want to devalue the grief of any Palestinian family who lost their dear ones in the attack, but, as I said before, we are not targeting civilians, we are trying to stop Kassam rockets." At a press conference held at the Foreign Office in London on Tuesday afternoon, British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett welcomed Livni and said that talks between them had been "very useful." The two foreign ministers said they had discussed the situation in Iraq and Lebanon as well as Iran and Syria and the Middle East in general, and in particular the Israeli- Palestinian issue. They also talked about the hope that Abbas would be able to put together a government of national unity. Beckett said: "I also took the opportunity to reassure [Livni] about our continued concerns about Hamas and their role, and that we support the renunciation of violence and move towards peace and I reiterated too concern about the continued, and indeed the increase of, rocket attacks from Gaza and expressed concerns over civilian deaths which leads us to the view that it is very important to try and move forward on the peace process in the Middle East and the return of the detained Israeli soldiers." Livni called the meeting very "meaningful and enlightening" and agreed with Beckett that it was crucial to advance the Middle East peace process. "It's in the interests of the moderates in the region, it's the Israeli interest and I believe we [Israel and the UK] share the same interests. "I came here from a troubled region at a very sensitive time because while I am here, Mahmoud Abbas is trying to promote the establishment of a new government in the Palestinian Authority." She said: "I do believe the conflict in the region is between the moderates and the extremists. With Abbas, we share the same vision for a two-state solution. It's not easy to face a process where we face a Hamas-led government, a terrorist organisation, and Hamas is not only a threat to Israel and Palestinian society but a threat to the region. "I do believe we share the same interests. It's not only Israel and President Abbas but moderate Arab leaders who understand that in order to change the situation it's not enough only to speak about a need of a process but to go the right way in order to keep the interest of the moderates in the region." The Israeli foreign minister was scheduled to hold talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair on Tuesday night before flying back to Israel.