Israeli FM in Egypt for talks on Gaza

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has arrived in Egypt for talks focussing on Israel's plans to pull out of the Gaza Strip, an airport official has said.

    Shalom will meet Egypt's president and the foreign minister

    Shalom is due to meet President Hosni Mubarak and his Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Maher, on the first visit to Egypt by an Israeli foreign minister for some two years.

    Analysts said Mubarak would refuse any plan to have Egypt resume the role it had administering the Gaza Strip before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, though he might consider the deployment there of a joint US-Egyptian force.

    But Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner told AFP in Jerusalem there had been a "misunderstanding" if Mubarak thought that Israel wanted Egypt to take over responsibility for security in Gaza.

    "It is not the case at all," he said. "If there were to be a role for Egypt it would only" be to control a 200-metre wide zone in the south of Gaza known as the Philadelphia corridor.

    Shalom said on Wednesday that he detected a sea change in Egyptian policy.

    "Egypt has changed course. Recently, it has shown a more constructive approach and my visit to Cairo will be important as it will be an opportunity to come to all sorts of understandings in the political, security and economic fields," Shalom told Israeli public radio.

    His Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Maher, paid a one-day visit to Israel in December as part of Cairo's efforts to kickstart the flagging Middle East peace process.

    Maher recently welcomed Sharon's proposal to evacuate Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip but urged him not to stop there.

    Shalom said the Israeli government was hoping to ink a deal with Egypt to supply the Jewish state with natural gas and that a senior Egyptian official would attend upcoming celebrations in Jerusalem to mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of a peace treaty between the two countries.

    Mubarak had also spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on at least five occasions over the last couple of months, he added.

    SOURCE: AFP


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