Top Israeli, Egyptian officials to meet

By JOSHUA BRILLIANT  |  July 15, 2002 at 4:06 AM
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TEL AVIV, Israel, July 15 (UPI) -- Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer for Alexandria Monday to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to discuss the 22-month-old Palestinian uprising.

The two leaders were planning a lengthy one-on-one meeting before joining aides and other members of Ben-Eliezer's delegation for lunch. After that, Ben-Eliezer was scheduled to helicopter from Alexandria airport to meet Mubarak while the rest of the delegation was to make the 40-minute ride in a motorcade.

Egypt has always wanted to play a key role in the Israeli-Arab dispute and has occasionally invited Israeli leaders over, though Mubarak refuses to visit Israel. Monday's meeting comes amid reports of increasing Egyptian criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Relatinons between the two have been sour and they have spoken only on a couple of occasions since Sharon assumed power more than a year ago.

Last week, Mubarak sent his chief of intelligence, Omar Suleiman, to Israel and the West Bank. The Egyptian leader reportedly said in a subsequent interview that Suleiman found Sharon "very extreme."

Israeli officials said they believe Mubarak wants to persuade the Israelis to negotiate with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, pull their troops out of West Bank cities, and ease the economic pressure on the Palestinians.

An Israeli diplomat who spoke to United Press International on condition of anonymity said Egyptians find the Labor Party that Ben-Eliezer heads a more congenial partner than Sharon, who heads the Likud.

Late last week, the Egyptians hosted Transport Minister Ephraim Sneh, who is very close to Ben-Eliezer, and Sunday hosted Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg, all of whom are Labor members.

Labor, in its party convention July 1 and 2, adopted dovish positions, including readiness to divide Jerusalem. Ben-Eliezer proved to be in control of the party, something that impresses the Egyptians, an Israeli diplomat said.

"With them a boss is a boss," the diplomat said.

An aide to Ben-Eliezer said his side wants the Egyptians to better understand Israel's needs. Ben-Eliezer and Sharon conferred Sunday to coordinate their positions, Cabinet secretary Gideon Saar said.

Ben-Eliezer has said Arafat has completed his historical role and does not want to negotiate with the Palestinian leader. He has told Suleiman the changes in the Palestinian Authority are "not significant."

Sunday Ben-Eliezer told the Cabinet the Israeli activities in the West Bank are necessary because of continued terrorist plans. Terror attacks have resumed when Israel pulled back.

Ben-Eliezer would like the Palestinian Authority to take stringent measures to stop militant attacks and reiterated Sunday that Israel imposes curfews and closures on the West Bank areas when it feels " the need" and has warnings of attacks.

The meeting comes as the Quartet, of the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union are to meet to discuss their policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Israel and Egypt want to demonstrate to the Quartet they are trying to put an end to the struggle.

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