PM Discusses Ongoing Gaza Operation With Putin

Olmert rejects plan for Beit Hanun operation; Mubarak: Hamas issued terms for soldier's release.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert discussed Israel's ongoing military offensive in Gaza with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, the Kremlin said.

Putin told Olmert about Russian efforts to help settle the crisis and resume the peace process, the Kremlin said in a statement. The conversation was initiated by Israel, it said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday said he and his Group of Eight counterparts were united in their demand that the Israeli soldier be released.

On Thursday, Olmert rejected a proposal by Defense Minister Amir Peretz and the Israel Defense Forces for a ground operation in the northern Gaza Strip against the ongoing Qassam rocket fire.

Olmert demanded that they present him with an approved operational plan.

According to government sources, the operation, which will target Beit Hanun, will take place, but Olmert wants the operation to be "prolonged and exhausting," and did not believe that the plan he was shown fit the bill.

(Click here for a map of Gaza)

The decision was made following consultations held by Olmert and Peretz with security officials, after Egypt asked Israel to allow more time for negotiations on the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, abducted Sunday from a post near the Gaza border.

The sources added that while IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz approved the plan, other IDF officers opposed it, and Olmert was informed of their objections.

The operation was aimed at halting Qassam rockets from being fired at southern Israel. Meanwhile, six of the homemade rockets struck the western Negev and Sderot on Thursday evening. There were no casualties.

Defense officials were furious at Peretz Thursday night, accusing him both of revealing that the planned military offensive in northern Gaza had been postponed and of denying initial reports that the postponement had been at Egypt's request.

Egypt had asked Israel to delay the operation at the beginning of the week, in order to allow time for diplomatic efforts to obtain the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. However, though negotiations with Hamas officials both in the territories and outside them are continuing, the talks have yet to yield a breakthrough.

Mubarak: Hamas agreed to terms for soldier's releasePalestinian militants have agreed to a conditional release of Shalit, but Israel has not yet accepted their terms, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said in remarks published Friday.

In an interview with Egypt's leading pro-government newspaper, Al-Ahram, Mubarak said "Egyptian contacts with several Hamas leaders resulted in preliminary, positive results in the shape of a conditional agreement to hand over the soldier as soon as possible to avoid an escalation.

"But agreement on this has not yet been reached with the Israeli side," Mubarak said.

The president said he had asked Olmert "not to hurry" the military offensive in Gaza, but to "give additional time to find a peaceful solution to the problem of the kidnapped soldier."

A Foreign Ministry official said Israel did not know of such an offer.

"In general Israel's stance is, as the prime minister said earlier, that the soldier will only be released unconditionally and there will be no negotiations with a gang of terrorists and criminals who abducted a soldier from Israeli territory," the official said.

Mubarak's remark implied he was claiming a role in Israel's decision.

"Israeli leaders promised, and I hope they will stick to it, not to shed the blood of innocent Palestinian civilians in any hurried military operation," Mubarak said.

"At the same time, Egypt warned Hamas leaders of the dire consequences of adopting of tough positions and urged them to shoulder their responsibilities in view of the dangers and difficulties faced by the Palestinian people at the present time," Mubarak said.

Mediators involved in contacts to help free Shalit from Palestinian captivity told Haaretz that Egypt communicated to Jerusalem its wish that talks be allowed to continue.

Although the talks have yet to yield a breakthrough, negotiations with Hamas officials in the territories as well as outside of the country are ongoing, mediators said.

According to information gleaned by the Palestinian Authority, Shalit is being held in the Khan Yunis refugee camp in southern Gaza. Peretz said Thursday afternoon that the IDF would sustain its blockade on the Gaza Strip until Shalit is brought home safely.

The defense minister was speaking at the graduation ceremony of the Israel Air Force pilots' course.

In a meeting with the heads of the defense establishment earlier in the day, Peretz predicted there was still a chance for a breakthrough that would lead to finding Shalit.

"We are now at the crucial moment ahead of setting new rules to the game... Any action we take must be examined thoroughly, according to its possible effect on the formulation of these rules," Peretz said.

The IDF has not completely ceased its military activities in Gaza, but is rather halting any further offensive measures at this stage.

Peretz authorized Thursday the next stages of the IDF's operation in Gaza, which began overnight Tuesday, and ordered troops to monitor the humanitarian situation in the Strip.