'We await Hamas answer on Schalit'

Peres meets rabbis Yosef, Amar, says Barzilai "media sensation" regrettable.

Peres Rabbi Ovadia Yosef 311 (photo credit: Avi Yair Engel / GPO)
Peres Rabbi Ovadia Yosef 311
(photo credit: Avi Yair Engel / GPO)
Israel must do everything possible to facilitate the release of Gilad Schalit, President Shimon Peres told reporters on Sunday after emerging from a meeting with Shas spiritual mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Shas political leader Eli Yishai and Haim Cohen, one of the executive members of the World Federation of Moroccan Jews.
Having said that, Peres emphasized that Israel had gone way beyond expectations in what it is prepared to offer Hamas in exchange for Schalit's freedom. "We're still waiting for a formal response," he said.
Asked what he had discussed with Yosef, Peres listed the closing of the social gap, the preservation of national unity and the strengthening of relations with the United States.
Peres, who makes a point of visiting Yosef and the chief rabbis of Israel just before Rosh Hashana and during Pessah and Succot, also did so before he became president.
At his meeting with Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Peres expressed outrage at the imbroglio that had evolved with regards to the construction of an fortified emergency wing at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, especially in view of the fact that both Amar and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger had given a joint halachic ruling that the area, which is in dispute because it may contain Jewish graves, could be built on in order to save lives.
Peres said that medical personnel at Barzilai had raised the issue with him more than a year ago when he was visiting soldiers who had been wounded during Operation Cast Lead.
Peres had regarded the matter as urgent at the time and had telephoned Amar immediately to explain the situation. He had been gratified by Amar's instant comprehension of the need, and of his subsequent official response, and complimented him on his wisdom and integrity, saying that Amar understood the vital work being done at Barzilai and had been more than willing to help enhance the medical services which the hospital provides.
Peres was at a loss to explain why the construction of an emergency room had to become such a sensational subject, especially when Barzilai is the only hospital providing essential medical services to soldiers and the general population in the western Negev.
Amar, for his part, lauded Peres for his efforts in trying to bridge gaps between various sectors of Israeli society, especially between the secular and the haredi communities.
He termed Peres's recent visit to Bnei Brak "a refreshing change" that may lead to a much improved social environment.  The differences are minimal he said, "but the commonalities are great."
Amar also noted that there had not been an Israeli leader in a long time who could match Peres's ability to bridge differences.
At Metzger's home, Peres met Chief Rabbi of Georgia Yaacov Gelashvili, who was equally impressed by the president's ability to act as a calming force in the most difficult and tense of situations.
Peres, Metzger and Gelashvili discussed the security of the Jews of Georgia. Metzger is a frequent visitor in the various capitals of the former Soviet Union, and as such is familiar with what is happening in the different Jewish communities.
Although the major post-Pessah Mimouna celebration hosted by the World Federation of Sephardi Jews is scheduled to take place on Tuesday at Jerusalem's International Convention Center, Peres was the guest of honor on Monday night at a somewhat smaller Mimouna gathering at the Pavilion banquet halls in Jerusalem's Talpiot neighborhood.