'Olmert was ready to free prisoners'

Egyptian President Mubarak urges Palestinians to "unify their positions."

mubarak olmert 298 88ap (photo credit: AP [file])
mubarak olmert 298 88ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was about to release a large number of Palestinian prisoners before the crisis over the captured Israeli soldier worsened, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said in remarks published Tuesday. In an interview with the Egyptian state-run newspaper El-Messa, Mubarak spoke of a missed opportunity to resolve the confrontation that developed between Israel and the Palestinians after gunmen linked to the Hamas government kidnapped an IDF soldier Gilad Shalit on June 25 and demanded an exchange for hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. "Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, promised me to free a large number of Palestinian prisoners," Mubarak said. "But events suddenly escalated." Mubarak did not blame Hamas for the escalation, but privately Egyptian officials have said the group did not respond favorably to Egypt's mediation.Egypt's diplomatic efforts ground to a halt last week after Hamas turned down Cairo's proposal for it to release Shalit and wait for Israel to free an unspecified number of Palestinians later. Egypt would vouch for Israel's releasing the Palestinians, but the releases would not be simultaneous to mitigate the appearance of an exchange.The exiled leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, acknowledged Monday that Egypt's efforts had failed to secure a deal with Israel, but he did not elaborate. Speaking to reporters in Syria, Mashaal repeated his demand for a prisoner swap. In the interview, Mubarak urged the Palestinians to "unify their positions." "Wisdom and logic should prevail," he said. "They should work for the sake of the Palestinian people. It is the Palestinian children and women who are paying the price" of the crisis. Prime Minister Olmert, who in public said any swap would be a "major mistake," gave the green light Tuesday for additional military deployments in Gaza to try to force the release of Shalit and stop Palestinian rocket attacks.