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Israeli Minister Postpones Egypt Visit Over War Crimes Row

An Israeli cabinet minister has postponed a planned visit to Egypt amid fresh allegations that he was involved in war crimes during the Middle East war 40 years ago. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the diplomatic row comes at a time when Egypt is trying to jump-start peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israeli cabinet minister and former general Benjamin Ben-Eliezer put off a visit to Egypt, where there is public outrage over reports that a unit he led during the Six Day War in 1967 may have killed 250 captured Egyptian soldiers. The allegations are based on an Israeli TV documentary, which, according to Egyptian media, showed that the Israeli unit executed the POWs after the war was over.

The Israeli filmmaker categorically denied the allegations, saying the Egyptian media badly distorted his documentary. He said the incident did not involve unarmed Egyptian prisoners, but rather Palestinian guerrillas killed in battle during the war.

Professor Joseph Ginat is an Israeli expert on Egyptian affairs.

"You know, this is like a blood libel," said Joseph Ginat. "And that is not easy, you know, to correct it. And knowing the Arab culture, when something has been published once, or being said once, to change it, it might take generations."

Egypt's foreign ministry said it summoned the Israeli ambassador to Cairo to denounce what it called the "killing of 250 Egyptian POWs as revealed in the documentary." The reprimand was made at a delicate time, when Egypt is playing a mediating role between Israel and the Palestinians.

Ginat says the Egyptian government does not want a diplomatic row with Israel, but it is responding to public opinion.

"Diplomatically it might be resolved, but I think that in the public it will take time, it will take, you know, weeks and months and maybe years to resolve it," he said.

Israeli analysts say the dispute is symptomatic of what has long been described here as the "cold peace" with Egypt - a peace that the Egyptian public, media and government have been reluctant to embrace. But as Ginat put it: "A cold peace is better than a hot war."