Mahir will meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and President Moshe Katsav during his brief visit, which is the first by an Egyptian foreign minister since the start of the Palestinian intifada in 2000.

"This is another meeting which constitutes a warming of relations between the two countries," the Israeli foreign ministry quoted Shalom as saying about the visit.

Shalom met Egyptian President Husni Mubarak in Switzerland earlier this month.

Apart from enhancing bilateral ties, Mahir's visit is also likely to nudge the Israelis to resume peace talks with the Palestinians.

Mubarak told reporters in Sadat City, near Cairo, on Sunday that Mahir will encourage Israel to restart dialogue.

"There will be a meeting between him (Mahir) and the prime minister (Sharon) for us to see the problems so we can help," Mubarak said.

Palestinian negotiator Saib Uraiqat told Aljazeera that the Palestinians' demands remained unchanged:

"However, and despite all the Egyptian efforts, Israel should stop building the Apartheid Wall, halt aggressive attacks against the Palestinians, freeze its settlement activities, implement the road map, and lift closures on Palestinian territories and the siege on Palestinian President Yasir Arafat," he said.

"These are the only steps that should be carried out," he added. 

Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

Relations between the two countries took a turn for the worse in 2000 when Egypt withdrew its ambassador to protest over Israel's brutal crackdown against Al-Aqsa Intifada.

Uraiqat called for a halt to Israeli
attacks and the "apartheid wall"
Peacemaker

But Egypt has recently played a key role in trying to coax Palestinian resistance groups to agree to a ceasefire.

Cairo's efforts to obtain a truce ended in failure earlier this month, but Egyptian envoys have been persevering with fresh proposals.

Shalom recently called the Egyptian role in trying to negotiate a ceasefire "positive", and said he hoped Egypt would also put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to disarm resistance groups under the "road map".

In Cairo, Egyptian analysts said Mahir's visit offered some hope that peacemaking could move forward.

But they added any movement had to come from Israel, which would require pressure from the United States.

"The first action has to come from Israel. They should give the Palestinians some hope at this stage," said Mustafa al-Faki, chairman of the Egyptian parliament's foreign relations committee.