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Egypt's Foreign Minister Holds Talks in Israel - 2001-12-06


One day after returning from a trip to Washington, Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher is holding talks in Israel.

In his first official visit to Israel, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher will attempt to quell an escalation of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mr. Maher, according to an Egyptian government source, wants to convince Israel to stop its air attacks in the occupied territories and give Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat time and assistance to crack down on militants, including Hamas members who claim responsibility for recent attacks in Israel.

Mr. Arafat has been under intense international pressure to arrest militants following suicide bombings on Saturday and Sunday that killed 25 people in Israel.

At the same time, a Damacus-based leader of Hamas is calling for Mr. Arafat to release Palestinian prisoners in response to recent Israeli air strikes on Palestinian Authority facilities.

Khaled Mashaal, the head of Hamas' political office in Damascus told VOA that despite renewed pressure from the United States, Europe, and Israel to stop suicide bombings Hamas will continue to battle Israeli occupation.

Mr. Mashaal says, "As long as our nation does not get its rights we will not stop our struggle." And, he adds, "as long as life and death are equal, Hamas is ready to continue to present martyrs one after another until Israeli occupation goes away."

Arab League spokeswoman and former aide to Mr. Arafat, Hanan Ashrawi, told VOA that Mr. Arafat cannot round up militants from groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad while there are air strikes and while Israel restricts the movement of Palestinian security forces. Ms. Ashrawi said Israeli actions are inviting more bloodshed. "They are placing him between a rock and a hard place, very clearly, and it is a complex situation," she said, "and at the same time they are continuing their acts of provocation as if they are inviting Hamas and Jihad and others to take revenge." After returning from his trip to Washington, Foreign Minister Maher said Egypt is concerned by Israel's increasing criticism of Mr. Arafat. Political observers in Egypt say Mr. Maher is likely to urge the Palestinian leader to do more to reign in militants.

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