Olmert, Abbas Meet Despite Uncertainty

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CBNNews.com - JERUSALEM, Israel - Despite the cloud of political uncertainty hovering over Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas met with Olmert at his Jerusalem residence Monday afternoon.

The meeting took place within hours after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice left Israel, following a 36-hour visit.

While PA negotiator Saeb Erekat told the press that Monday's meeting would be an overview of how negotiations are proceeding, the latest investigation facing Israel's prime minister will likely freeze the talks for the foreseeable future.

"Olmert is facing many problems at home," an aide to Abbas said Sunday.

"We doubt if he would be able to focus on the peace talks while he's being interrogated by the police. Obviously, he has been weakened by the latest affair," he said.

Meanwhile, Army Radio reported Monday morning that the gag order over the most recent investigation of the prime minister would be lifted within 24 hours, "following major progress expected in the investigation."

According to officials in the attorney general's office and the police department, "reliable" information, which has been gathered up to this point, "will shock the country."

"A limited amount of time can be set aside for questioning on any given day because this is the prime minister," Cmdr. (ret.) Yosef Sedbon, a former senior police investigator, told The Jerusalem Post.

"That's why the many questions are divided into separate interrogation sessions. This needs to be carefully planned to avoid giving away the direction of your inquiry to the prime minister," he said.

Sedbon said that Friday's 90-minute interrogation of Olmert would not suffice.

"More questions will arise," Sedbon said. "According to past experience, Olmert will be questioned several more times, I have no doubt whatsoever," he told the Post.

On Sunday, Olmert's former secretary, Shula Zaken, was called in for a second round of questionsing in less than a week.

According to Sedbon, the permit issued by Attorney General Menachem (Meni) Mazuz, allowing police to question Olmert within 48 hours after notification, had to do with an unexpected exposure of the investigation last week.

"In principle, when the police are allowed to carry out an undercover investigation, detectives can take their time. But when there is exposure, you need to act fast and take down initial testimonies from suspects. If you wait too long, the exposure ruins the investigation and allows suspects to coordinate their testimonies," he said.

"All of the suspects need to be interviewed at the same time and then have their testimonies cross-referenced. In an undercover investigation, documents and facts are assembled first, and only then are personal statements taken. Here because of exposure, the interviews took place first," Sedbon said, emphasizing that it does not indicate a "stronger-than-usual case."

"The investigators must go after the truth, while safeguarding the prime minister's honor, he said, describing Fraud Unit Chief Lt.-Cmdr. Shlomo Ayalon as "highly experienced and well-prepared" to handle the task at hand.

Meanwhile before Sunday's Cabinet meeting, Olmert told reporters that "the country has been swept with a wave of rumors regarding the investigation and once "matters are made clear, it will put an end to the rumors."

The prime minister said he would continue with business as usual in the meantime.

"We will continue to deal with the issues on the national agenda and see to matters of state," he said.

The prime minister's office canceled radio and print interviews slated for Yom Ha'atzma'ut (Independence Day) to stave off questions on the investigation that could not be answered.

Sources: The Jerusalem Post, The Associated Press, YNet news, Haaretz

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Tzippe Barrow

CBN News - Jerusalem Bureau

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