Mubarak meets with Olmert, slams raid

SHARM EL SHEIKH (AP) — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak firmly condemned Israel’s raid into the West Bank on Thursday as he met with Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert in a summit aimed reviving the long-stalled peace process.

“Israel’s security cannot be achieved through military force but by serious endeavours towards peace,” Egypt’s state-run news agency, MENA, quoted Mubarak as telling Olmert during their meeting in this Red Sea resort.

The Egyptian leader also called for “the immediate halt of all acts of violence and any practices that will impede [Egyptian] efforts” to bring peace, MENA said.

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

Speaking in Washington, senior European diplomat Javier Solana said Rice’s Mideast visit was aimed at promoting peacemaking, stalled for more than six years since the outbreak of the current Palestinian uprising in September 2000.

But Solana, when asked if Rice was optimistic about prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, said: “I don’t think that optimism is the word. We have to stick to the word realism.” There were indications that during Thursday’s summit Mubarak would try to propose a three-way meeting to include Olmert and Abbas, although Israeli media suggested it could also include King Abdullah.

“This is another step on the way to resuming peace negotiations in the area,” said one Egyptian diplomat here on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to reporters.

Olmert spokesman Jacob Galanti, responding to a report in the daily Haaretz that Mubarak would propose a four-way summit that would include Egypt, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians, said Israel had no knowledge of such a proposal.

“If they offer it, we’ll certainly weigh it. But we have no indication that it will be offered,” Galanti said.

Olmert and Mubarak also were likely to discuss efforts to free a captured Israeli soldier, but Israeli officials said they did not expect a breakthrough on the prisoner issue.

Fighters linked to Hamas captured Cpl. Gilad Shalit in June, and a Hamas official on Sunday claimed progress towards an agreement for his release in exchange for Israel freeing some of the 9,100 Palestinians in its prisons.

A senior Hamas official in Syria on Thursday said his group was ready to give Israel a videotape of Shalit if it agrees 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.

With few exceptions, Israel has refused to free Palestinians who played active parts in attacks that killed Israelis.

A Palestinian prisoner release would bolster the domestic standing of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in his efforts to build a more pragmatic coalition with the governing Hamas, while Israel says freeing the soldier is key to reviving peace talks with the Palestinians.

Egypt has been mediating efforts to end the standoff since Shalit was captured, and it brokered a shaky       November 26 truce under which Hamas has virtually halted firing rockets at Israel.

The Israelis and Palestinians each hope for some movement on the prisoner issue Thursday but warn that it is not a done deal.

“Gilad Shalit is not going to be freed tomorrow, there is not going to be a dramatic announcement,” Olmert spokeswoman Miri Eisin said this week. “It will be discussed, but unfortunately we’re not at that point yet.” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who is close to Abbas, agreed.

“To speak of an agreement, at this stage, is premature,” he said.

Olmert and Mubarak last met on June 4, 2006, also in Sharm El Sheikh. Mubarak hosted Abbas in the Red Sea town on December 27, 2006, where the Palestinian president proposed closed-door talks with Israel on some of the thorniest issues dividing them, including the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

Olmert met Abbas last month in the first Israeli-Palestinian summit since June 2005, when then-prime minister Ariel Sharon met the Palestinian leader.

A state-run Egyptian newspaper Wednesday quoted Mubarak spokesman Suleiman Awad as saying that Olmert’s visit to Mubarak would be followed at an unspecified date by another Olmert-Abbas meeting, in Sharm El Sheikh.

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