Olmert links Shalit, truce deal


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel will not agree to a truce deal with Hamas until kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit is released, Ehud Olmert said, officially linking the two for the first time.

Olmert reiterated his stance, which was released Feb. 14 in an official statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, during a meeting the next day with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, as the trio worked to formulate a proposal on a deal to effect both a cease-fire and Shalit’s release.

The proposal could be brought to a Cabinet vote as early as Wednesday. Olmert also will consult with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who could be tapped to form the next government, according to reports.

In the statement, which was released to counter rumors that Israel was about to sign a cease-fire agreement, Olmert’s office reiterated that "Israel is not conducting any negotiations with Hamas and will certainly not reach any understandings with it."

The statement added that following consultations on Feb. 15, "should a decision of any kind be required, it will be made only via a meeting of the Security Cabinet and after taking into account all of the new political circumstances that have been created in the wake of the recent Israeli elections."

"Prime Minister Olmert’s position is that Israel will not reach understandings on a lull before Gilad Shalit’s release," the statement concluded, the first time that the two issues have been officially linked.

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