Olmert: Israel will pull all Gaza troops as soon as possible
PM to visiting European leaders: Peace talks with Palestinians top Israel's agenda, beside our security.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that Israel does not intend to keep a military presence inside the Gaza Strip, nor does it aim to reconquer the territory, despite its three-week offensive on the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave.
Israel declared on Saturday night a unilateral cease-fire in its offensive. The declaration was followed by a separate truce announcement from Hamas.
Olmert told European leaders visiting Jerusalem on Sunday evening that in the wake of the cease-fire, Israel planned to withdraw all of its troops as soon as possible. He said that such a move would come when the situation between Israel and Gaza was "stable."
"We didn't set out to conquer Gaza, we didn't set out to control Gaza, we don't want to remain in Gaza and we intend on leaving Gaza as fast as possible", Olmert said at a dinner with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic.
He also expressed sorrow over the deaths of civilians in Gaza, calling them hostages of the Hamas murders and vowed to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the territory.
He thanked the Europeans for their support in mediating a truce between Israel and Hamas, and for its committment to end the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip.
Olmert also reiterated that the Israel had set out on its offensive to halt the "impossible situation" of rocket fire on its citizens.
The prime minister said that Israel has put advancing the peace negotiations with the Palestinians at the top of its agenda, beside its own national security.
The Jerusalem dinner was attended by European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who arrived in Israel following a summit hosted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.
Earlier, Olmert's spokesman Mark Regev said the crossings into Gaza would open if the truce persists:
"If this ceasefire holds, and I hope it does, you'll see the crossings open to an enormous amount of humanitarian support," he said.