Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Saturday he would meet moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas even though an Israeli soldier is being held captive by Gaza militants with links to the ruling Hamas party.
Olmert spoke during a news conference in Jerusalem with visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who expressed his support for renewing dialogue with Abbas despite Hamas' control of the Palestinian parliament and government.
Long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks hit a new obstacle in January when the Islamic Hamas group swept a Palestinian parliamentary election.
Israel, backed by the United States, Britain and other Western countries, has refused to recognize the Hamas-led government and debilitating international sanctions have plunged many Palestinians deeper into poverty.
Although Olmert had previously said he would not try to bypass the Hamas government by negotiating with the moderate Abbas, he has since shelved a plan to unilaterally withdraw from chunks of the West Bank.
At Saturday's news conference Olmert indicated he would talk to Abbas, but said no real progress could be made until captured Cpl. Gilad Shalit is released.
"I have always been willing to meet with Abu Mazen, the head of the Palestinian Authority, and also now I have no conditions for this matter. I can say that a meeting with Abu Mazen could even be helpful on the issue of Gilad Shalit," Olmert added.
Shalit was captured on June 25 by Hamas-linked militants in Gaza who carried out a cross-border raid on a military outpost in southern Israel, reports AP.
Blair said it was important to "re-energize this process" between Israel and the Palestinians.
"We are at a very preliminary stage in talking about these things, but I hope very much in the time to come that we can make progress, and of course it is important that Cpl. Shalit is released," he said.
Olmert and Blair also discussed Iran's nuclear efforts and a fragile U.N.-brokered cease-fire that brought an end to a monthlong war between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas.