PMO: Release of Shalit Tape Does Not Change Israel's Position on Hamas

Yishai: Israel should mull direct talks with Shalit's captors; MK Ran Cohen: Shalit must not be new Ron Arad.

A senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said Monday the release of an audio tape purportedly from abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit earlier in the day would not change Israel's policy regarding Hamas.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert listened to the tape prior to his departure for Monday's four-way summit with Palestinian, Egyptian, and Jordanian leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh.

The official, who accompanied Olmert to the summit, said "the prime minister has no doubt that the text was dictated to Gilad Shalit by Hamas."

"There is no change in Israel's position regarding Hamas," he added. "Hamas is not a partner. This is yet another example of Hamas' cruelty on this issue."

The official added that Olmert spoke with the Shalit family prior to his departure for Egypt, in a conversation that was unrelated to the release of the tape.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad told Channel 2 TV that "we want to reach a deal at the end of the day. If the Israeli side wants, we can renew negotiations for [Shalit's] release."

Sources accompanying Olmert stressed that the prime minister will comment on the tape during his press conference following the summit. However, they said, the abducted soldier's fate will be only one of "the issues that will be discussed, and the release of the tape will not become the primary topic nor will it divert attention from the other issues."

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni denounced Hamas for making what she called cynical use of Gilad Shalit's suffering to further its own agenda. She said that Hamas is trying to dictate its own "brutal agenda in the region in order to undermine a political process which is taking place right now in order to create a better future for the region," a reference to the Sharm el-Sheikh summit.

Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Eli Yishai on Monday called on the government to examine the possibility of direct negotiations with abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit's captors.

"The unstable situation in the Palestinian Authority leaves us no choice but to thoroughly examine the option of direct negotiations," said Yishai, after Hamas released an audio recording from Shalit on the first anniversary of his abduction Monday.

According to Yishai, in the past Israel has held direct and indirect negotiations with enemy groups while it was at war with them.

"It seems that the indirect negotiations through Egyptian mediators have useless and haven't led to Shalit's release," added Yishai.

Meretz called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to immediately renew the negotiations over the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit. Meretz said that "the fact that Shalit has been held by his kidnappers for a year while Israel has not done all in its power to return him" is a failure.

MK Ran Kohen (Meretz) said that the content of the recording is "moving and chilling," adding that "Gilad must return home, also because of his deteriorating health. We must not allow Shalit to become the second Ron Arad, even at the price of releasing thousands of Palestinian prisoners."

MK Danny Yatom(Labor), a former Mossad chief, called on the government to begin negotiations with Hamas. "With the absence of a military option, we must conduct negotiations and pay the price, Yatom told Channel 10 TV.

National Union chairman MK Benny Elon called on Olmert to uphold a "policy of not surrendering to terror." According to Elon, "In the face of the psychological pressure of Hamas' forces of evil, there is no opposition or coalition."

MK Yitzhak Levy (National Union) said that "The transfer of humanitarian aid to Gaza must be done on the condition the Shalit is released." Yitzhak reasoned that the release of the recording indicates that Hamas is under pressure because of the siege on the Gaza Strip.