Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has urged Egyptian President Husni Mubarak to help Israel improve its relations with the Arab world.
Shalom on Tuesday called for "a new road map" for normalising Israel's relations with the Arab world and asked for the Egyptian president's assistance in achieving this goal.
After concluding his talks in Cairo with Mubarak and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Ghait, Shalom said he had asked Mubarak to use his good offices to enable "the moderates, not the extremists, in the Palestinian side to lead the political process", Aljazeera reported.
"Israel and Egypt have much to gain from enhancing the relationship between Israel and all its Middle East neighbours," Shalom said after a 90-minute meeting with the Egyptian leader.
"This is why I believe it's very important to launch a new road map to promote Israel's relations with the Arab world."
Israeli officials with Shalom said he was using "road map" as a figure of speech - and was not indicating any new proposals.
Pressed about it later, he said it was similar only in name to the existing internationally backed Israeli-Palestinian road map to Middle East peace.
Al-Ghait (L) said settlements were
a great threat to peace
"There is a road map with the Palestinians - that is one thing. The second thing is a new road map with the Arab world, that is to say, the attainment of full diplomatic relations and full normalisation between Israel and the Arab world," Shalom said.
Among Arabs, the subject of establishing relations with Israel is divisive.
An Arab League summit last month shot down a Jordanian proposal that would allow for ties with Israel before any final peace settlement returned all Israeli-occupied land.
Israel has been pushing for ties with Muslim countries for years, with recent reports it is close to formal relations with Morocco and Chad.
Shalom has said in the past that talks for relations were at an advanced stage with a number of Arab and Muslim states.
Israel has formal - if often chilly - relations with Jordan and Egypt, the two Arab countries that have signed peace treaties with the Jewish state. It also has diplomatic ties with the Arab state of Mauritania.
Abu al-Ghait said the collective Arab position was clear: Offering normalisation in return for a just peace. However, the foreign minister recognised individual countries might take advantage of improved Palestinian-Israeli relations to make their own contacts with Israel.
"It is very simple. The Arab world is ready to go down the road of normalisation and building relations with Israel in exchange for reaching a just and fair solution to the Palestinian issue," he said.
"The Arab world is ready to go down the road of normalisation"
Egyptian foreign minister
"And yet, the issue is left to every country to deal with the situation as it sees it."
The Arab and Muslim view of Israel is heavily influenced by Israel's position on the Palestinians.
In the United States on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon brushed off a warning from President George Bush not to expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank and signalled Israel would continue to solidify its hold on Palestinian land.
After talks at Bush's ranch in Texas, Sharon said Israel would keep its large settlement blocs, such as Maale Adumim.
"The blocs will be part of Israel, with everything that that entails," Sharon said, indicating construction would continue to link Maale Adumim to Jerusalem.
In Cairo, Abu al-Ghait said settlement expansion was a great threat to peace prospects and, squeezing Shalom's forearm, he said: "Let us implement to the letter what is required."
He urged an end to settlement expansion and the release of Palestinian prisoners.
The two ministers said Israel and Egypt were working on the creation of a bilateral committee to deal with pending issues between the two states, as well as peace issues. The committee was proposed 10 months ago, and is now taking shape.
After meeting Mubarak, Shalom spoke with Egyptian intelligence chief, Umar Sulaiman, on what were expected to be specific discussions about an Israeli pullout of the Gaza Strip.
Sharon has indicated Israel will
keep its large settlement blocs
Egypt has been working with the Israelis and Palestinians to secure its border with Gaza and ensure the Israeli departure does not lead to a security vacuum that gets filled by Palestinian fighters.
Shalom referred to the need to stop arms smuggling from Egypt to Gaza. He said most aspects of an agreement had been sorted out and that security officials on both sides were working on three remaining clauses. He was not specific, but said he hoped they would be settled soon.
Arrest and attacks
In related news, Aljazeera learned that a 15-year-old Palestinian boy was arrested by Israeli occupation forces near the West Bank city of Nablus and was found to be carrying five pipe-bombs.
Troops said the boy had attempted to explode one of them as soldiers closed in to arrest him.
An Israeli occupation spokesman said the boy had initially aroused suspicion because he was wearing a heavy winter coat despite the high temperature.
Meanwhile, the Abu Ali Mustafa wing of the Palestinian Martyrs Brigades confirmed that it launched two home-made missiles on the illegal Israeli settlement of Jani Tal in the south of the Gaza Strip.
It said the attack was in response to repeated Israeli incursions into Palestinian areas.