Mubarak demands Israel to ease blockade on Arafat
Egypt-Israel, Politics, 1/31/2002
Egypt yesterday pursued its efforts to contain the worsening violence in the Middle East, with President Hosni Mubarak holding a significant meeting with Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
The meeting, Mubarak told reporters, aimed at searching for the best solutions to end violence and start negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.
"We care for peace and we are eager to see calm prevailing in the region so that negotiations can restart," he said, adding that Egypt and Israel had agreed to continue contacts.
Mubarak said that during his meeting with Ben-Eliezer, the chief of the Israeli Labour Party, Egypt had asked Israel to ease a blockade imposed on Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
Arafat has been confined to the West Bank city of Ramallah since last December, with the Israeli government of hardline Prime Minister Ariel Sharon insisting he would not be allowed to leave before the Palestinian Authority arrests killers of a former Israeli cabinet minister.
Mubarak also opposed Israel's plans to replace Arafat. "There is no replacement for Arafat and it is wrong to think this way," said Mubarak.
He added that his talks with the Israeli official had covered stalled negotiations with Syria. "But this needs some time," he added.
He said that judging by Ben Eliezer's earlier statements, he could help unblock the peace process and "explain" to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon work for pushing forward the peacemaking drive.
On an Israeli allegation that Iran was involved in a ship Israel intercepted with an arms cache it said was destined for Palestinian self-rule areas, Mubarak said he had knowledge of confirmed information.
"But let us exclude the issue of Iran from the process."
Asked if there was something new from his meeting with the Israeli official, Mubarak said : "We exchanged views. Should we stand by watching?
If so, how will the problem be solved? Should we leave the process for violence and collapse? The whole area would then be engulfed in chaos."
Mubarak played down an anti-Egyptian campaign in the US blamed on Israeli instigation.
"Israelis know we are committed to the peace agreement... We endeavour to help in solving the Palestinian problem so that security and peace would prevail in the entire area."
Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. Jordan followed suit in 1994.
Ben-Eliezer said, meanwhile, he had sent Syria a message through President Mubarak spelling out Israel's readiness to resume peace negotiations.
"I delivered a message through him (Mubarak) to the Syrian President to tell him that Israel is ready to sit at the negotiating table," Ben-Eliezer told reporters after meeting Mubarak.
Ben-Eliezer called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop supporting Lebanese Hizbollah resistance fighters who have continued to confront Israeli occupation troops in the occupied Shebaa Farms. The Israeli defence chief said al-Assad should come to the negotiating table without preconditions.
Syria has said it is prepared to resume talks with Israel on condition they restart at the point they left off in January 2000 when US-sponsored meetings in West Virginia broke down over the future of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Yesterday's meeting took place against a backdrop of continued violence, coupled with widening discord between Washington and its Arab and European allies over the crisis and how to deal with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
Ben-Eliezer, a hawkish member of the Israeli government, is the most senior Israeli to visit Egypt since Foreign Minister Shimon Peres came to Cairo in July 2001, an Egyptian report said.
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