Olmert praises Bhutto

Ehud Olmert mourned the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, saying she was open to ties with Israel.

“I saw her as someone who could have served as a bridgehead to relations with that part of the Muslim world, with whom our ties are naturally limited,” the Israeli prime minister told the Jerusalem Post. According to Olmert, upon Bhutto’s return to Pakistan two months ago she relayed a message through a mutual acquaintance that she would “in the future like to strengthen the ties between Israel and Pakistan.”

Israel and Pakistan, the only Muslim country in the world with nuclear weapons, do not currently have diplomatic relations. The turmoil in Pakistan has been of great concern to Israel, given Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

Pakistan’s president blamed Islamic militants for Thursday’s assassination of Bhutto, a major opposition leader.

Bhutto, 54, who was shot by a gunman before a suicide bomber detonated a bomb at a political rally near Islamabad, returned to Pakistan in October amid political crisis in the country. She survived an earlier assassination attempt when a bomber struck during the parade that greeted her return to Pakistan.

Bhutto’s assassination has intensified the great political uncertainty in Pakistan that was triggered two months ago when President Pervez Musharraf moved to suspend the country’s constitution and scuttle planned parliamentary elections, setting off a constitutional crisis. After enduring heavy criticism at home and abroad, including from the Bush administration, Musharraf withdrew some of his plans, resigned his post as commander in chief of the army and rescinded his declared state of emergency for Pakistan.

Analysts speculated that Musharraf might againd declare a state of emergency in the wake of Bhutto’s killing.

“Israel expresses the hope that Pakistan will continue along the path of reconciliation, moderation and democracy,” Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said after Bhutto’s assassination.

Other Israeli leaders, including President Shimon Peres, expressed similar sentiments. “I had the chance to meet her on several occasions, in which she expressed interest in Israel and said that she hoped to visit upon returning to power,” Peres said in a statement. “Benazir was a charismatic leader and a fighter for peace in her country and across the world.”

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