Page last updated at 15:16 GMT, Monday, 23 February 2009

Olmert 'drops chief negotiator'

Amos Gilad - 2005 file photo
Amos Gilad's remarks were published in an Israeli newspaper

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert is to replace his chief negotiator at Gaza truce talks mediated by Egypt, officials say.

Amos Gilad criticised Mr Olmert last week for what he called an inconsistent approach to the talks, which he said was insulting to the Egyptians.

For the last month, Egyptian mediators have been meeting separately with Mr Gilad and his team, and officials from Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

About 1,300 Gazans and 13 Israelis died in the recent Gaza conflict.

Israel refuses to talk directly with Hamas, which it considers a terrorist organisation.

Mr Gilad criticised Mr Olmert in remarks published in an Israeli newspaper last week.

He was responding to a new demand from the prime minister that an Israeli soldier - Gilad Shalit - held by Palestinian militants in Gaza be released before a long-term truce with Hamas could be agreed.

"Suddenly, first we have to get Gilad [Shalit]. I don't understand that. Where does that lead, to insult the Egyptians? To make them want to drop the whole thing?" Mr Gilad is quoted as saying.

In a statement, reported by the Associated Press news agency, Mr Olmert's office said: "Due to the inappropriate public criticism levelled by Mr Gilad, he cannot continue as the prime minister's envoy to any political negotiations."

It did not say when he would be replaced, nor who would succeed him.

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