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Mubarak, Israeli Foreign Minister to Discuss Security Concerns Monday - 2004-06-04


Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak is scheduled to meet Israel's foreign minister in Egypt Monday to discuss security concerns in the Gaza Strip in case of Israeli withdrawal from the territory.

Representatives from both sides say continuing efforts to find peace in the region are at the core of Monday's meeting.

Egyptian and Israeli diplomats are pointing to Monday's scheduled meeting between President Hosni Mubarak and Israel's foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, as both a renewal of the Mideast peace process and of improving relations between the two countries.

The two men are expected to discuss Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's proposed Israeli pullout of the Gaza Strip in the Palestinian territories.

According to the Israeli Ambassador to Egypt, Eli Shaked, Egypt, as he put it, "is back on track" in the Mideast peace process after relations between the two countries were strained over the continuing Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Ambassador Shaked says Monday's visit by the Israeli foreign minister is part of a renewed effort to implement the road map for peace.

?There is a common interest among all the parties concerned, including Americans, Israelis, Egyptians, Palestinian Authority, to see that the possibility of renewing or starting the talks on the road map is materializing,? Ambassador Shaked said. ?So, I think this is a common interest that is, altogether, pushing all sides concerned into the negotiating table, or the discussions to prepare for negotiations between the two sides, the Israelis and the Palestinians.?

According to former Egyptian diplomat Abdullah al-Ashaal, President Mubarak wants three conditions met in order for him to support Israel's proposed Gaza Strip withdrawal.

?He wants total pullout from Gaza. And secondly, it should be within the road map. And thirdly, that this would be a prelude for a peace process; it shouldn't be confined only to the pullout of Gaza,? he said.

Mr. al-Ashaal says President Mubarak wants to heed Washington's calls for greater Arab involvement in the peace process. And, he says Prime Minister Sharon is anxious to gain Arab backing in hopes of generating support for the pullout plan among Israeli hardliners.

Egypt's concerns about security after an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is on top of Cairo's agenda for the meeting Monday.

Former Egyptian foreign minister and former secretary-general of the Arab League, Esmat Abdel Meguid, says Egypt does not want to see the Gaza Strip becoming a breeding ground for Islamic militant groups.

?I think any country that has a border is certainly concerned about what is happening on its borders,? Mr. Abdel Meguid said. ?Yes, Gaza is a very important border for Egypt and we certainly would like to see peace in that area. And, I think it is the goal of the Palestinians, it is the goal for the Israelis. Sure, every country has to have borders that are safe and not be subject to terrorism or pressure.?

President Mubarak has said Egypt stands ready to help train Palestinian forces in the Gaza Strip, should the Israelis withdraw. He has also said plans are being developed to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza from Egypt.

Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher says Cairo wants to see the Palestinian government assume responsibility for the Gaza Strip.

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