Egyptian intelligence chief due in Israel for talks on Gaza tension

By Xinhua

Jerusalem : Egyptian intelligence chief OmarSuleiman is scheduled to arrive in Israel next Tuesday for talks with top Israeli officials on the Gaza Strip tension, local daily Ha’aretz reported Wednesday on its website.

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Suleiman will meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in an effort to advance a new Egyptian initiative to reduce the tension on the border between Egypt, Israel and Gaza, said the report.

Cairo wants at least a partial reopening of the border crossing, alongside its promise to improve efforts to prevent militants from smuggling weapons and terror operatives from the Sinai to Gaza.

The Egyptians are trying to reach separate agreements with Israel and Hamas, because both parties refuse to discuss the matter directly.

Ha’aretz said that the Egyptian initiative is an attempt to revive the 2005 Rafah agreement, which included the participation of European monitors, who left the area last year after Hamas took over Gaza.

Cairo has expressed concern over the lack of stability on the Gaza border, particularly since Hamas broke down the border wall in Rafah at the end of January.

However, Israeli security officials have expressed doubts about the five-party plan – involving Egypt, Israel, Hamas, the United States and the European Union – which calls for a reopening of the Rafah crossing with American support and guarantees, and the assistance of European monitors.

The Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service are dubious about the monitors’ role in light of criticism about their limited role in the past.

The Egyptian intelligence chief is also expected to discuss with Israeli officials the effort to advance a deal for the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit, said Ha’aretz.

Some progress has been made on the issue recently, with Israel expressing its willingness to release more than 200 of the prisoners that Hamas wants to include in a prisoner swap.