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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Egyptian FM: Egypt knows captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit is alive

Last update - 15:23 27/12/2006   

Egyptian FM: Egypt knows captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit is alive
By Yoav Stern and Gideon Alon, Haaretz Correspondents, Haaretz Service and The Associated Press

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Wednesday that Egypt knows that captured Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit is still alive.
Aboul Gheit said Egypt is working to win the Shalit's release, who was captured in a cross-border raid by Hamas-linked militants in Gaza last June.
"This is a very sensitive issue and we have to treat it with very serious sensitivity," he said at a news conference in Jerusalem. "I hope and believe that he will be released ... but I emphasize that we are working hard for his release and we are sure that he is still alive."
Gheit met Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday in Jerusalem, and told him that Cairo was appreciative of Israel's policy of restraint, the Prime Minister's Office said.
The two met Wednesday morning as the Prime Minister's Office announced that Olmert will meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheik on January 4.
According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office, Olmert and Aboul Gheit discussed the continuing Palestinian violations of the Gaza cease-fire.
"The Egyptian foreign minister expressed Egypt's deep appreciation for the Israeli policy of restraint, and its contribution to the strengthening of moderate elements in the Palestinian Authority," said the statement.
"The prime minister explained the complexity of the situation given the continued firing of missiles against Israel during the cease-fire, and the Israeli need to protect the lives and security of the citizens of the State of Israel," the statement continued.
The two also discussed the upcoming Red Sea summit between Olmert and Mubarak, which will deal with the developments between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the wake of Saturday's meeting between Olmert and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
The meeting will also deal with continued arms smuggling from Egypt into the Gaza Strip via the Philadelphi Route, as well as broader regional developments in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, Abbas met with Mubarak in Cairo on Wednesday, to brief the Egyptian president about his Saturday meeting with Olmert.
Egypt has played a major role in mediating between Israel and the Palestinians, and has been trying to negotiate the release of Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, captured by militants linked to Hamas, the militant group that controls the Palestinian parliament and cabinet.
Aboul Gheit is expected to discuss with officials in Israel the mediation efforts his country has undertaken on the release Shalit, even though no noticeable progress is expected in the near future.
The foreign minister is also expected to meet with officials to lay the groundwork for the meeting between Olmert and Mubarak.
He was also to meet with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Meretz leader Yossi Beilin.
Political sources in Jerusalem said Tuesday that the calls of Syrian President Bashar Assad for renewed peace negotiations with Israel would also be discussed during Aboul Gheit's meetings with Israeli officials.
The Israeli ministers will update Aboul Gheit on recent decisions taken by the government to alleviate the daily existence of the Palestinians.
MK Beilin was expected to present the Egyptian visitor with his plan for furthering the road map by skipping over the first stage that demands the dismantling of the militant groups.
However, the arrival of the Egyptian foreign minister has led some, including MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) to call on the government to declare him persona non grata and prevent Aboul Gheit's visit from taking place. Steinitz maintains that unless Aboul Gheit publicly declares that Egypt recognizes Israel's sovereignty over Eilat, he should not be allowed to visit Israel.
Several weeks ago, the Egyptian foreign minister claimed that Eilat is Palestinian territory.
"We must not accept this," Steinitz said. "Had the Egyptian foreign minister said that Gaza or Nablus belonged to the Palestinians, I could understand it, but 25 years after the signing of a peace agreement with Egypt, raising questions regarding Israel's sovereignty in Eilat is something that we must not allow to pass," the former head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee added.
Steinitz maintains that Aboul Gheit's statement was not a slip of the tongue but a sustained Egyptian effort to undermine Israel's sovereignty in the south. The Likud MK said President Mubarak ordered the creation of a panel of experts in 1995 to examine the legitimacy of Egyptian claims. The panel, Steinitz says, concluded that Egypt can claim the southern triangle of territory covered by Uvda, Yotvata and Eilat.
The Clinton administration pressured Egypt to shelve the panel's report, and Mubarak agreed to the request.

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