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Israeli, Egyptian Summit Fails To Revive Peace Effort January 4, 2007

Posted by notapundit in World News.
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SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt (AP)–A summit between the leaders of Israel and Egypt on Thursday fell short of its goal of igniting a new round of Mideast peace efforts, and instead highlighted the significant disagreements between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Speaking during a news conference after the meeting, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak condemned an Israeli raid in the West Bank, pushed Israel to hold talks with Syria and urged it to pursue peace with the Palestinians despite the rise of the Islamic militant Hamas.

The meeting was overshadowed by Israel’s raid in the city of Ramallah hours earlier that killed four Palestinian civilians and wounded 20 others.

Mubarak, a key mediator between the Palestinians and Israel, strongly denounced the raid, expressing his “displeasure” for what had happened and stressing that “Israel’s and the region’s security would be achieved only by serious endeavors toward peace.”

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert apologized for civilian casualties from the raid. “Things developed in a way that could not have been predicted in advance, if innocent people were hurt, this was not our intention,” he said.

The summit came amid international calls for Israel and the Palestinians to make a renewed effort to end their dispute, in the interest of stabilizing the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular. It also comes ahead of an expected Mideast visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice later this month.

Egypt is eager to broker peace between the Palestinians and Israel, and Mubarak on Thursday said he would welcome a meeting bringing together himself, Olmert, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

“After the situation is crystalized, there is no objection for a quartet meeting,” he said.

But significant obstacles block the start of a new peace process, including the continued captivity of an Israeli soldier seized by Hamas-linked militants in June. Egypt has been trying to broker a deal for Cpl. Gilad Shalit’s release, and many in Israel waited – in vain – for a breakthrough at the summit.

Olmert thanked Mubarak for his efforts to secure Shalit’s freedom, and said Israel was ready to meet with Abbas, but he rejected having any dealings with Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls the Palestinian Cabinet and calls for Israel’s destruction.

“We are ready at any time to meet with Abu Mazen (Abbas) and have real negotiations and have an atmosphere for peace,” Olmert said, adding that Abbas was a “partner for peace” while Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal wasn’t.

Mubarak shot back, that not everyone in Egypt supported its peace agreement with Israel, but that didn’t stop it from signing a peace treaty with Israel.

Mubarak hosted Abbas at a summit here on Dec. 27, four days after Olmert met with Abbas in a meeting intended to thaw relations between the two sides. The Olmert-Mubarak meeting was expected to build on those earlier efforts, but didn’t appear to have achieved any major breakthroughs.

Mubarak expressed concern about the ongoing violence between Israel and the Palestinians and between rival Palestinian militants, but said they shouldn’t damp peace efforts.

“We have to work with both sides, with the Palestinian side to reach a cease-fire among them. They must unite and solve their problems, and then we can see how to deal with the Israeli side so they can sit at the negotiating table and reach peace. It is a tough task but can’t be skipped,” he said.

Olmert said he expressed concerns to Mubarak about the ongoing smuggling of weapons and money from Egypt into Gaza. Israel and the West have imposed a financial embargo on the Hamas government, but top Hamas leaders have kept the government afloat by bringing suitcases stuffed with millions of dollars over the border.

Mubarak said he was doing his best to stop weapons smuggling into Gaza, but said the cash-filled suitcases weren’t illegal as long as they were declared.

He also urged Israel to accept Syria’s offers to restart peace talks that broke down seven years ago. Olmert has rejected the offers, citing Syria’s support for Hamas and the Hezbollah guerrilla group in Lebanon.

Mubarak also expressed hopes for securing Shalit’s release soon.

A Hamas official on Sunday claimed progress was made toward an agreement exchanging Shalit for some of the 9,100 Palestinians in Israeli prisons.

A senior Hamas official in Syria on Thursday said his group was ready to give Israel a video of Shalit if it agreed to release Palestinian women prisoners and other detainees. Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau in Damascus, said in a telephone interview that Shalit is alive.

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