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Egyptian Foreign Minister to Travel to Israel to Discuss Gaza Withdrawal - 2004-09-28

Egypt's foreign minister is planning to visit Israel next month in an attempt to broker a deal on the orderly withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. The minister's planned trip follows a meeting he had earlier this month with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Egypt's foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, says he expects to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other senior officials the first week in October.

After briefing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Arab League officials on his plans Tuesday, the Egyptian minister told VOA he is working on an agreement that would clear the way for a Palestinian takeover in Gaza.

"I have to go because we are trying to work with the Israelis and the Palestinians on an arrangement that would ensure an orderly withdrawal from the Gaza Strip," he said.

The foreign minister, who until recently was Egypt's U.N. ambassador, said he would tell Israeli leaders that the pullout from Gaza must be complete.

"It has to be complete because the presence of any residual Israeli presence will complicate the situation," he said.

He did not elaborate, but in a separate interview with the Associated Press he noted that the current climate is not conducive to a smooth Israeli withdrawal.

Foreign Minister Gheit said he also hopes to negotiate the subsequent Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

The Egyptian minister said he would be accompanied on his mission to Israel by Egyptian Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who has also been active in recent diplomatic efforts.

Mr. Suleiman had been scheduled to meet Israeli officials and tour the Rafah area in southern Gaza this week. He cancelled the trip, however, after a leader of the Palestinian Hamas group was assassinated in Damascus.

Foreign Minister Gheit traveled to the West Bank town of Ramallah earlier this month to brief Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on his diplomatic mission.

Israel refuses to negotiate with Mr. Arafat, and Egypt has been attempting to act as mediator. Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza, is offering to help ensure security in the territory after the Israeli pullout, including a possible ceasefire by Palestinian militant groups.