Israeli foreign minister meets Egyptian president in Cairo

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in another sign of strengthening bilateral ties.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the Al-Ittihadiya Palace in Cairo Dec. 9. They discussed the Iranian threat, strengthening bilateral ties in various spheres and Egypt-mediated efforts to reach a long-term agreement between Israel and Hamas.

According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Lapid and Sisi spoke about the Iranian nuclear program, the Vienna talks and the threat to regional stability posed by Iranian support for armed proxy groups. They also discussed combating terror and measures taken by Israel to strengthen the Palestinian Authority.

Lapid then presented Sisi with his vision for Gaza, a plan he unveiled last September at a conference of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Reichman University. Lapid’s economic plan would offer financial incentives to Gazans in return for an end to Hamas attacks against Israel. The two men also discussed the Israeli demand for the return of the bodies of two IDF soldiers and two Israelis held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Lapid also presented Sisi with stolen Egyptian artifacts that had been smuggled to Israel and confiscated by the Israel Antiquities Authority. It is the first time Israel has publicly returned such artifacts to Egypt. A statement published by the Israeli foreign office ahead the meetings read, “As a gesture to strengthen relations, Foreign Minister Lapid, in cooperation with Israel’s Antiquities Authority, will return Egyptian archeological items seized in Israel. The director of the Antiquities Authority, Eli Escozido, is joining the visit.’’

The artifacts in question were recovered in January by Israeli police after a series of raids in the center of Israel. Police discovered thousands of stolen archeological artifacts including gold coins, jewelry, ancient Egyptian sarcophagus lids, bronze statues and clay vessels.

Lapid said in a statement after the meeting, “Egypt is an especially important strategic partner for Israel. My goal is to strengthen our security, diplomatic and economic ties with Egypt. It is important to continue to work on the peace between the two nations. I thank President Sisi, whose contribution to the region and to the ties between us are of historic proportions, for the hospitality, and for the warm and open meeting.”

The encounter was the first time the two have officially met. Sisi met last September with Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Egyptian city of Sharm el-Sheikh, the first public visit by an Israeli prime minister to Egypt in over a decade.

Sisi and the Egyptian security establishment maintained strong relations with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and with Israeli security agencies, especially on combatting Islamic extremists in the Sinai Peninsula and on calming unrest in Gaza. Still, Netanyahu was never formally invited to visit Egypt.

Bennett’s visit there last September, a Cairo trip last month by Israel’s national security adviser Eyal Hulata and Lapid’s visit today all reflect Cairo and Jerusalem’s interest to strengthening bilateral relations in security and other domains. These sentiments were also apparent in the relentless efforts over the past few months by Cairo to mediate a long-term cease-fire and comprehensive agreement between Israel and Hamas.

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