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Friday, January 5, 2007

MKs slam Ramallah raid, which cast pall over PM-Mubarak meet

Last update - 11:29 05/01/2007   

MKs slam Ramallah raid, which cast pall over PM-Mubarak meet
By Nir Hasson, Haaretz Correspondent, Haaretz Service and Agencies

Knesset members on Friday debated the wisdom of the timing of an Israel Defense Forces raid in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday that cast a pall over a meeting in Egypt between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak the same day.
Four Palestinians were killed and 20 wounded on Thursday when IDF undercover troops entered the West Bank town of Ramallah on an arrest raid, setting off protests and gunbattles in the center of town.
When the leaders' summit in Sharm el-Sheikh ended, Mubarak told reporters at his joint press conference with Olmert: "I expressed to the prime minister our indignation at what happened today in Ramallah and said that Israel and all the people in the region will achieve peace only by refraining from all practices which obstruct its course."
Olmert apologized for the deaths of civilians, but defended Israel's incursion as an operation aimed at stopping terrorists responsible for the death of Israeli citizens. He pointed out Israel's restraint in responding to the Qassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip at the Negev.
"Things developed in a way that could not have been predicted in advance. If innocent people were hurt, this was not our intention," he said in reference to the West Bank raid.
The meeting apparently did not advance the two main topics on the agenda, the prisoner exchange deal involving kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit and Palestinians being held in Israeli jails, and furthering negotiations with the Palestinians.
Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said Friday that the IDF should have delayed the raid until after the meeting because Israel's relations with Egypt are of utmost importance.
"Such an operation I think did not need to have been done on the same day that there is a visit of the Israeli prime minister to a country in which we have utmost strategic interest," Ben-Eliezer, a former defense minister from the Labor Party told Israel Radio on Friday.
"The relations between us and Egypt are such that they are more important to us than anything else, and according to my best assessment, at least according to the information I have in my hand, it was possible not to carry out this operation now but to postpone it to another time," he said.
MK Ran Cohen (Meretz-Yachad) also criticized the timing of the raid.
However, MK Yisrael Hasson (Yisrael Beiteinu), a former deputy head of the Shin Bet security service, argued that there was no reason for the raid to have upset Mubarak or prevent progress from being made in the talks.
"Nothing should have kept Mubarak, in this regard, from advancing the issue of preventing [weapons] smuggling [from Egypt into Gaza]," he told Israel Radio. "Nothing on this matter should have bothered Mubarak as such from moving forward in some achievement."
"It shouldn't have bothered him because he knows how to swallow these things," said Hasson. "This is an operation that I think the IDF does a few times a week ... without Mubarak stopping his activities."
Mubarak: Talk to PA
Mubarak urged Olmert to conduct peace talks with the Palestinian Authority if it could not negotiate with Hamas.
Olmert said Hamas could not be a partner to negotiations, to which Mubarak responded: "Then try with the Palestinian Authority. It is the one delegated for this. In Egypt, too, there were elements who did not agree to the peace agreement [with Israel], but peace happened, with the majority of votes, almost by consensus, because peace is life."
Mubarak also said that Israel must not allow the Qassams to stop the peace process.
"These Qassam rockets. They'll fire them every other day. Shall we stop the peace process because one or two individuals fire rockets? We must proceed with the peace process," Mubarak said.
Mubarak said it was Olmert who suggested holding a four-way summit of Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian leaders, to advance a prisoner exchange agreement.
Regarding the recent Syrian overtures to Israel, the Egyptian president said that neither party believed the other, and for this reason they must sit down together and begin talking in order to establish mutual trust.
The press conference became tense when Olmert mentioned that during their meeting he expressed concerns about the ongoing smuggling of weapons and money from Egypt into Gaza via the Philadelphi Route. Olmert said he knew the issue concerned Mubarak as well and that Egypt is making efforts to stop the smuggling.
Mubarak said in response that Egyptian law allowed the passage of money into Gaza as long as it was declared, but that Egypt would not hesitate to intercept weapons shipments.
When an Egyptian journalist asked Olmert to comment on remarks that appeared to imply that Israel possesses nuclear weapons, Olmert repeated the stock Israeli statement, "Israel will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons into the region." Mubarak called for making the Middle East a nuclear weapons-free zone.
Hamas spokespeople deny organization ready to swap video of Shalit for prisoners' release
Hamas spokesman Fauzi Barhoum and Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas militants, on Thursday denied reports that their group was ready to give Israel a videotape of captured Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, if it agrees to release Palestinian women prisoners and other detainees.
Haaretz reported earlier this week that Hamas would hand over a video proving that Shalit is alive, the first such indication since his capture by Hamas-linked gunmen on June 25, in return for the release of Palestinian women and minors held in Israeli jails.
Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas' political bureau in Damascus, said Thursday that Shalit is alive.
He also confirmed earlier reports that Hamas was willing to trade the videotape for the freedom of "Palestinian women and a considerable number of detainees," but did not name a figure.
The later statement by Barhoum and Abu Ubaida contradicted Abu Marzouk statement.
Abu Marzuk said the demand was "modest in light of the high price Palestinian people have paid and the collective punishment they have faced by Israel following the capture of the soldier."

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