Egypt says working for release of Israeli soldier

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (Reuters) – Egypt told Israel on Tuesday it was trying to secure the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held in Gaza for the past two years and not included in last week’s truce between Gaza and Israel.

“We are making efforts in the case of Gilad Shalit,” Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told reporters at the start of talks with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Olmert added: “We will discuss the ongoing activities to bring about the release of captured soldier Gilad Shalit.”

Egypt has been trying to mediate Shalit’s release since shortly after he was captured on the border with Gaza in June 2006. But Israel and the Islamist movement Hamas, which runs Gaza, have not been able to agree on all the conditions, such as which Palestinians Israel should free in return.

Israeli officials have said the reopening of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt — a step sought by Hamas — depends on a deal on Shalit.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said last week that Shalit’s release depended on Israel freeing Palestinians, though the Olmert government has balked at many of the names on the list.

Olmert, on his first visit to Egypt since the truce came into effect on Thursday, thanked Mubarak for helping broker it.

“Egypt played an important role in creating conditions that made it possible to end the terror from Gaza to Israel,” he said. “Egypt and Israel are strategic partners.”

Since the truce began, Israel has started to ease gradually the economic blockade of Gaza it imposed when Hamas took control of the strip from the rival Fatah group last year.

In 1979, Egypt became the first Arab country to make peace with the Jewish state. It has played a role over the years as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians.

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