Israel's Linkage of Gaza Cease-fire, Shalit Deal Angers Egyptian Mediators

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert intends to bring before the cabinet for its approval tomorrow a demand that conditions a cease-fire deal on the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit. Olmert updated Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on his position and stressed that Israel would not agree to a different arrangement for a cease-fire deal.

Israel's demands regarding Shalit have angered the authorities in Cairo, who had hoped to finalize a deal in the next few days.

Olmert stressed yesterday that he had informed Mubarak of his view after Defense Minister Ehud Barak assumed the opposite position with Egyptian mediators.

Olmert believes that if the cabinet decides to accept his precondition that any cease-fire in the Gaza Strip be contingent upon Shalit's release, then Barak will be unable to strike a different deal with the Egyptians.

"We will bring our own proposal for a framework [deal]," sources close to Olmert said yesterday. "If the defense minister or anyone else has a different proposal, let them bring it and we will see if it will be approved."

The prime minister and his aides were upset by the behavior of Barak, who had granted interviews to the media days prior to the election, declaring that a resolution of the Shalit case was close at hand. Barak had warned that for this to happen, difficult decisions must be made.

Olmert and his aides attributed to the defense minister a series of media reports on a framework agreement for Shalit's release, as well as reports that the cease-fire agreement would not include the soldier's release.

During a visit in southern Israel yesterday, Olmert made a statement which targeted Barak. "I have insisted from day one that there will be no cease-fire before Shalit is release," Olmert said. "I did not speak of this in public, and I asked in every possible way: Do not talk about Gilad Shalit in public. Contrary to other people, I thought that it should not be talked about."

"Every day I witnessed dramatic appearances of individuals on television talking about the need for decisions. I thought that it was appropriate for whoever carrying the supreme responsibility in the State of Israel to tell the public the truth," he added.

Olmert also said that he had called the Egyptian president to clarify Israel's stance on Shalit's release. The prime minister hinted that Barak had given Egypt mixed messages.

"I spoke with the highest officials in Egypt so that there will be no misunderstanding," Olmert said. "I said that we will not reopen the border crossings [in the Gaza Strip] and assist Hamas so long as Gilad Shalit is in their brutal prison. When Gilad is home, we will be ready to discuss other matters."

Egyptian President Mubarak said yesterday that his country would continue the mediation efforts between the two sides despite setbacks.

"The release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is a separate issue and cannot be linked to the truce," Mubarak said while meeting in Bahrain with the country's leader, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

Meanwhile, the deputy head of the Hamas politburo in Damascus, Musa Abu Marzuk, said yesterday the final outcome of the cease-fire talks would become clear in two or three more days.

He said that if Israel wanted Shalit returned, it had to release Palestinian prisoners to their homes, hinting that Israel had insisted on releasing them outside the Palestinian Authority.

Arab sources reported yesterday that Hamas had already agreed to the Egyptian cease-fire proposal and to Cairo's conditions - namely that the border crossings would not be fully opened before Shalit's release.