During talks in Cairo on Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak asked Israel to ease restrictions on the movement of Palestinians. It was unclear if progress was made on a prisoner swap.
REUTERS - Egypt asked Israel on Tuesday to ease restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, but it was not clear if the talks in Cairo made any progress on a proposed Israeli-Palestinian prisoner swap.
It was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s third visit to Egypt since taking office in March. Egypt has been mediating talks over a prisoner trade between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas that controls Gaza.
“We requested that Israel take many internal steps to lift the pressure off of Palestinians such as checkpoints that allow freedom of movement,” Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said at a news conference after the talks with President Hosni Mubarak.
“Israel promised to take steps that would ease pressure on Palestinians.”
Israel has placed checkpoints throughout the West Bank and also controls the air space, sea access and most of the entry points into the coastal enclave of Gaza.
Hamas took control of Gaza after 2007 fighting with the Fatah group of U.S.-allied Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who remains in control of Palestinian towns in the West Bank, a separate territory, occupied by Israel in 1967.
Aboul Gheit said the talks had not discussed in detail the possible release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier seized in Gaza three years ago.
A Hamas delegation headed to Syria via Egypt on Sunday to discuss Israel’s response to the proposed swap, in which Hamas would release Shalit and Israel would free around 1,000 of the 11,000 Palestinians in its jails.
The United Nations and Western powers hope such a deal will lead to a relaxation of the blockade on Gaza, which was the target of a three-week Israeli offensive a year ago to stop Palestinians firing rockets into Israeli towns.
But Aboul Gheit said Egypt opposed an Israeli demand to bar between 100 and 120 Palestinian prisoners from returning to the West Bank, close to Israeli cities.
Israel also says it does not want to release a handful of Palestinians serving life sentences over lethal attacks.
“Egypt understands the Palestinian need for the release of certain figures in jail. We are against the Israelis’ idea of expelling some Palestinians from Palestinian lands and keeping others in jail,” he said.
Some 1,400 activists from 43 countries gathered in Cairo this week to the mark the first anniversary of the Gaza war. Dozens protested in central Cairo on Monday and Tuesday after Egypt refused to let them march there.
Aboul Gheit defended a controversial steel wall Egypt is building along its Gaza border but did not give details on its reasons. “This is about Egyptian defence. Egyptian defence has its needs imposed by circumstances and we cannot reveal its secrets,” he said.
Israel complains that arms or items that can be used to make weapons are smuggled into Gaza through tunnels. Many of Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinians depend on the food and other goods smuggled through them.
Date created : 2009-12-30