"Until now, the prime minister hasn't involved himself at all. Suddenly, the order of things has been changed.

"Suddenly, first we have to get Gilad," he said, referring to Olmert's announcement that there would be no truce with Hamas unless Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held captive by Palestinian fighters, was freed.

"I don't understand that. Where does that lead, to insult the Egyptians? To make them want to drop the whole thing? What do we stand to gain from that?"

Hamas angered

Olmert's decision to remove Gilad has also angered Hamas, the Palestinian faction in control of tha Gaza Strip.

"This shows that the Zionist occupation government has no intention of reaching an agreement on the calm or of concluding a prisoner swap," Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said.

Gilad has been engaged for weeks in trying to sign a lasting truce with Hamas, to replace the shaky ceasefire signed in January that ended the 22-day conflict in Gaza.

His removal came ahead of a visit next week by Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, to Israel and the West Bank for talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials.