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Olmert, Abbas may hold peace summit

But the Israeli PM wants gunmen in Gaza strip to release its soldier, whose abduction plunged Israeli-Palestinian ties to a new nadir.

india Updated: Sep 05, 2006 16:13 IST

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will hold his first peace summit with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas if gunmen in the Gaza Strip release a captive Israeli soldier, Olmert's senior deputy said on Tuesday.

Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres's remarks came after a Bahraini newspaper quoted Abbas as saying a deal was in place to free Corporal Gilad Shalit, whose abduction in a deadly June 25 border raid plunged Israeli-Palestinian ties to a new nadir.

"Abu Mazen (Abbas) should be invited to talks, and I believe the prime minister will do so in the coming days. Negotiations must be launched on the basis of the 'road map'," Peres told Israel's Army Radio, referring to a US-led peace blueprint.

"When this (captive) situation is resolved, it (a meeting) will take place," he said.

Diplomacy between Israel and the Palestinians was deadlocked before Shalit's capture, ever since Hamas Islamists took over the Palestinian Authority in March after defeating Abbas's more moderate Fatah movement in elections two months earlier.

Israel, backed by Western nations, wants Hamas to abandon its charter calling for the Jewish state's destruction, and to renounce violence, as a precondition for talks.

Abbas argues he could still be Israel's interlocutor, circumventing Hamas.

An Abbas aide said the president had yet to be invited for a summit with Olmert. The two leaders have met only informally, at a conference in Jordan, since Olmert took power in May.

"We believe that any time Olmert is ready to meet, the meeting should be very well prepared because what counts should be the substance," the aide, Saeb Erekat, told the agency.

An Israeli political source said Olmert has held off on a summit so far because he expects Abbas to demand the release of some of the thousands of Palestinians jailed in Israel.

Olmert wants Shalit, whose captors include Hamas militants, to go free before discussing any such amnesty, the source said.

Complicating matters for Israel is its parallel efforts to retrieve two soldiers seized by Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas in a July 12 raid also aimed at forcing a mass prisoner release.

Abbas told Bahrain's Akhbar al-Khaleej newspaper that a swap had been tentatively agreed for Shalit's release.

"An agreement has been reached about exchanging prisoners that is based on Egypt taking the soldier as a deposit, and after that the number of Palestinian prisoners-of-war would be announced," Abbas said.

Erekat said talk of a deal was "premature", as did Peres.

"Everything that has been published so far is in the realm of speculation," Peres said. "No deal has been sealed."

In Gaza, representatives of Hamas and of the Popular Resistance Committees, another group that took part in Shalit's abduction, described negotiations on his release as stalled.

"Egyptian mediation is the only mediation on offer but there is no movement in this matter," said Hamas political leader Osama al-Muzaini