Foreign Minister: Netanyahu serious about renewing peace talks

Cairo — Egypt’s foreign minister said he was encouraged by Tuesday’s visit to Cairo by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the Israeli leader is serious about restarting peace talks with the Palestinians.

He refused to share details of what Netanyahu proposed to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during their two-hour meeting in Cairo today, but he said Netanyahu presented proposals that "surpassed" Israel’s previous positions.

Aboul Gheit added that Netanyahu gave his Egyptian hosts the impression that he wants to get diplomacy moving again, and that "everything is on the table."

The Egyptian foreign minister was earlier quoted by the Middle East News Agency as denouncing Tel Aviv’s recent move to build dozens of housing units in east Jerusalem.  

"This behavior raises questions regarding its seriousness and intentions to reach a permanent agreement," said Aboul Gheit before the Mubarak-Netanyahu summit.

Palestinian authorities say they will not resume talks until Israel freezes all settlement construction, adding that they want Netanyahu to resume talks from where his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, left off.

Netanyahu’s visit to Egypt came amid rising expectations that the United States will propose two letters of guarantee for Israel and the Palestinians to serve as a basis for relaunching peace talks that have been stalled for almost a year.

Netanyahu was accompanied on his trip to Cairo by his special envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, who is responsible for their government’s talks with the US administration.

According to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, Molcho met last week with US special envoy George Mitchell where they reached an agreement on a number of outstanding issues, including the time-frame allotted for negotiations as well as Israel’s readiness to discuss the Palestinians’ demand for a state based on 1967 border lines.

Netanyahu said Monday that "conditions are ripe" for renewing peace negotiations with the Palestinians.  

The Israeli premier and Mubarak also discussed the negotiations to swap hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Dubai-based TV channel Al-Arabiya quoted Hamas sources on Tuesday as saying that Israel is delaying the completion of the Shalit deal by refusing to release 50 Hamas officials it holds in its jails.

The militant Islamic movement, whose leaders from the Gaza Strip and elsewhere were meeting in Damascus, Syria, said the Israeli conditions were unacceptable.

Shalit, 23, was seized by Hamas militants in an attack on an Israeli army outpost on the border with Gaza on June 25, 2006.

Egypt has been trying to broker a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas for more than a year and was later joined by Germany.

Israel balked at Hamas demands earlier this year to free hundreds of prisoners in exchange for Shalit.



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