posted on Dec, 22 2003 @ 09:35 AM
Sharon meets Egyptian FM for talks on peace process
By The Associated Press and Haaretz Service
JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Ariel Sharon indicated to Egypt's foreign minister Monday that Israel would respond favorably to a cease-fire offer from
Palestinian militants, an Israeli official said.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher met with Sharon and other senior Israeli officials during his first trip to Israel in more than two years. He was in
Israel in an effort to restart talks on the stalled U.S.-backed road map plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Egypt, which has often played a mediator's role between Israel and the Palestinians, has been pressuring Palestinian militants to halt attacks on
The militants have so far rebuffed the Egyptian efforts. Israel has also largely dismissed talk of a cease-fire, saying that the militant groups must
be dismantled, as required by the road map.
But in a potential shift that could breathe new life into the efforts, Sharon indicated to Maher Monday that Israel would halt activity against the
militants if there is a cease-fire.
"We will respond to quiet with quiet," said a senior source in the prime minister's office, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Sharon also raised the situation of Israeli citizen Azzam Azzam, who has been imprisoned in Egypt for espionage for the past eight years, and Maher
promised he would convey the contents of their conversation to Mubarak.
The source said the meeting had gone very well, and that Maher indicated that the talks could lead to a summit between Sharon and Egyptian President
Hosni Mubarak - something Mubarak has avoided since Sharon, a career hardliner, came to power in 2001.
"Maher spared no effort to show that they want to warm up relations," the source said.
After meeting with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Maher told a news conference that he was very optimistic that the cease-fire talks with the
Palestinian factions would be successful, and that he emerged from his meetings with the Israelis with a feeling that the road map can be revived.
"Let's start this road which will lead us to a solution and to peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, which will be beneficial to the
whole region," Maher said. "So, I come out from here encouraged, but the encouragement needs to be followed up by actions, we hope to see actions
from both sides as soon as possible."
Shalom told reporters after the meeting that he intends to accept his Egyptian counterpart`s invitation to visit Cairo.
Under the road map, Palestinians must dismantle violent groups, and Israel has to halt construction in settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and
take down unauthorized outposts. Neither side has carried out these obligations.
Egypt withdrew its ambassador in protest against Israeli actions shortly after the current round of violence erupted in September 2000, and the
ambassador has not returned since.
Egypt has continued to play a mediator's role, however.
Egyptian officials confirmed that Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who has been mediating the internal Palestinian cease-fire talks, would
travel to the West Bank next week with Maher for talks with Palestinian leaders.
Israeli officials hoped that Maher's visit Monday would signal a new era of closer ties.
"I am sure that this visit will contribute to the strengthening of relations between Egypt and Israel," Sharon said. "I hope this visit will
contribute to our relationship with the Palestinian Authority and our efforts to reach a peace agreement."
Sharon has grown impatient with the impasse with the Palestinians and has pushed for tough action by the Palestinian Authority against the militant
Just saw the report of him beating beaten on CNN International.