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Egypt vows to press for Shalit prisoner swap

Text by REUTERS

Latest update : 2008-10-23

Egypt's leader promised to step up efforts to broker a prisoner swap with Islamist movement Hamas and secure the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, following talks with the Israeli president.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak vowed on Thursday to rekindle Cairo's stalled efforts to broker a prisoner swap with Hamas, after talks with Israeli President Shimon Peres.
   
Peres, welcomed with pomp and ceremony in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, said Mubarak promised to step up efforts to secure the release of an Israeli soldier captured by Gaza militants more than two years ago.
   
Mubarak "promised me to increase the efforts to release Gilad Shalit that would effect not only one family but the entire people of the region," Peres told a joint press conference.
   
"I hope the efforts to bring about his release will be increased and yield results."
   
In recent months, Egypt has assumed a crucial role in mediating between Israel and Hamas, which does not recognise the Jewish state. Israel, along with the United States and the European Union, blacklists Hamas as a terrorist group.
   
Mubarak "confirmed Egypt's efforts to bringing positions closer that would lead to the agreement for the release of Shalit and Palestinian prisoners."
   
Hamas has demanded that Israel release about 1,400 Palestinian prisoners, including hundreds implicated in deadly attacks on Israelis, according to a senior Israeli defence official.
   
Mubarak denied that the prisoner exchange talks had failed: "We have not failed ... The Israeli side knows perfectly well what Egypt is doing in regards to Shalit."
   
Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007 after routing forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
   
Last June, Israel and Hamas agreed to a six-month Egyptian-brokered truce in and around the Gaza Strip, ending months of fighting.
   
Although both sides have largely observed the fragile agreement, little visible progress has so far been made in the talks on a prisoner exchange, with Israel voicing reluctance to free many of those demanded by Hamas.
   
The two leaders also discussed Israel-Palestinian peace talks, which have been put on hold pending the formation of a new Israeli government following Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's resignation.
   
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is still in talks to set up a new coalition government after Olmert resigned last month to battle a string of corruption scandals.
   
Mubarak said the talks also dealt with "supporting peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, and stabilising calm in Gaza and raising the siege on the inhabitants of the Strip."
   
However, he criticised ongoing Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank, saying that has "a negative impact on building trust and pushing peace process forward."
   
Israel and the Palestinians relaunched peace talks last November at a US-hosted conference with the goal of reaching a deal by the end of 2008, but most observers believe that is unlikely.
   
The talks also focussed on the Hamas-Israel truce and on Egyptian efforts to reconcile the rival Palestinian factions.
   
After the two heads of state met, Peres -- who unlike Mubarak holds a mainly ceremonial post -- went into talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit and Defence Minister Hussein Tantawi.
   
The octogenarian leaders discussed relations between the neighbouring states which signed the first ever Arab-Israeli peace treaty in 1979.
   
They also raised a Saudi-brokered peace initiative, under which Israel would get Arab recognition in return for withdrawing from occupied Arab land.
   
"We accept the Arab peace initiative in order to bring peace to the entire region," Peres said, reiterating the Jewish state's apparent rising openness to the initiative.
   
"Over the past century there hasn't been any period where reaching peace was more possible than now. It would be a mistake to miss it," Peres said.
   
The Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Wednesday that Peres would propose a deal, drawn up by his and Livni's offices, to negotiate with representatives of each Arab state in accordance with the Saudi peace initiative, adopted by the Arab League in 2002.
   
"Livni is aware of everything I have talked with the president Mubarak," Peres said.
   
The Israeli president later headed home to Israel.
 

Date created : 2008-10-23

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